DETROIT – Living out of a suitcase finally got to Joakim Andersson this week.
“We just needed to get out of the hotel, get some fresh air and walk around,” said the Red Wings’ rookie, who, along with his girlfriend, visited the Detroit Zoo on Wednesday afternoon.
After four games in seven days, the players were given the day off. But hanging around the Westin Book Cadillac in downtown Detroit – where Andersson has lived since being recalled Feb. 9 – wasn’t his idea of rest and relaxation.
Understandably, the players haven’t had much time to themselves this season, not with a 48-game schedule crammed into 99 calendar days. And it’s even more constricting for young players like Andersson, who have been understudies for injured regulars like Todd Bertuzzi, Darren Helm and Mikael Samuelsson, and don’t know much about the surrounding region.
“I ask the guys mostly where to go and where not to go,” said Andersson, a native of Munkedal, Sweden. “You can only look up so much online on the Internet.”
Besides the occasional shopping trip to an area mall, Andersson hadn’t seen much of what southeastern Michigan has to offer.
“Both me and my girl’s idea,” said Andersson, of their three-hours at the zoo, where the 6-foot-2 center was impressed most by the giraffes.
The Red Wings have been equally excited about Andersson’s play, particularly over the last five games where he’s picked up two goals and three points.
“He’s a big man that can skate and he’s responsible defensively,” said Patrick Eaves, who along with rookie Tomas Tatar skate on the fourth line with Andersson. “That makes it really easy to play with, and then his skill level is awesome. He can move to the middle and get the puck out (to) the sides to Tuna and I who have speed. He’s been a joy to play with.”
Not known as a big play-maker, Andersson could stand to be more physical as a checking center, but his skill in the face-off circle has benefited the fourth line, Eaves said.
“I believe he’s above average in the face-off circle. So we start with the puck a lot, which is nice,” Eaves said. “He’s come up to this level and has been above average right away. It helps us out a lot so we can jump on the offensive side knowing that he has a good shot of winning that.”
The 24-year-old Andersson had 10 goals and 17 assists in 36 games with the Griffins before he was called up after Bertuzzi began to experience debilitating back pain last month.
Puck-possession is huge for the Wings, so coach Mike Babcock has been impressed by Andersson, who has won 46-of-91 draws (50.5 percent) in 13 games.
“I think he's been real good and effective,” Babcock said. “Now, I went through every single one of Andy's shifts just to be sure. He's a smart guy; we talked to him and try to help him, but he's got seriously good hockey sense, knows how to play with and without the puck. It's just pace with him. That's the biggest issue.”
Eventually learning the tendencies of the league’s centermen will also help Andersson’s development.
“I get thrown out (of the faceoff circle) a lot more here than I did in the American League,” Andersson said. “That’s probably up to me to figure the timing against the other guys that I’m taking the draws against, and maybe the referees are a little different too. I have to figure that out so I don’t get thrown out too much.”
He’d also like to settle in Detroit long-term.
“After a month, I’m starting to get used to everything – the facilities, all of the teammates and the coaches and everything,” he said. “It’s more familiar than it was a month ago. I hope I can stay here longer so that it will be a real home.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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