DETROIT – The Red Wings will have a rookie call-up back in the lineup and hope that a top-six forward will also join them when they open up a three-game road trip through western Canada on Wednesday evening in Calgary.
Winger Gustav Nyquist will play in just his third NHL game this season after being recalled from Grand Rapids on Tuesday. To make room for him, Tomas Tatar was returned to the club’s American Hockey League affiliate.
It’s also possible that Valtteri Filppula (shoulder sprain) could play Wednesday however, if he’s not in the lineup he’ll certainly return to action on this trip either in Edmonton on Friday, or Vancouver on Saturday.
“I think Filppula’s back in, so suddenly there's no power-play time for Tatar,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “So you gotta give Tats a ton of credit, he came up for one game (and) he earned himself 17 games. Now we'll give Gus an opportunity and we'll see what Gus can earn himself.”
The Wings called up Tatar in early February, and he played admirably, chipping in with four goals and three assists in 18 games.
The hope is that Nyquist, who is the AHL’s leading scorer with 23 goals and 37 assists in 57 games this season, can add a spark to the Wings’ sagging offense.
“I’ve always been a guy who’s been a pass-first guy and up here you don’t know how many chances you’re going to get,” said Nyquist, who has a goal and six assists in 20 career games with the Red Wings. “I think down in the AHL I can create a lot more chances, and when you’re playing the best league in the world here you don’t know how many chances you’re going to get in a game. Once you get a chance you want to take advantage of it and a shot is a better option most of the times than a pass.”
The former Hobey Baker Award finalist at the University of Maine has been on a hot streak lately, scoring five goals and 10 points in a recent four-game stretch for the Griffins, who are contending for the top playoff seed in the Western Conference.
As the AHL’s top scorer, Nyquist is in some elite company, as only three prospects in Wings’ franchise history have ever led the AHL in scoring in a single season. The last was center Tim Taylor, who produced 117 points in 79 games for Adirondack in 1993-94. Indianapolis center Les Douglas led the AHL with 90 points in 1945-46, and Pittsburgh center Don Deacon collected 65 points in 1938-39.
“If you look at the players down there you know they’re a lot of players going up and down to the NHL all of the time,” Nyquist said. “So there is a great amount of good players down there and it’s still a league that you can improve (in) and learn the systems a little bit better.
“But I’m really excited to be up here again and getting a new chance.”
The Wings practice at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday before they headed to Calgary later in the day. Babcock shuffled the forward lines a bit with Nyquist working with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. Meanwhile, Filppula was back on Henrik Zetterberg’s line, opposite Damien Brunner. It appears that Justin Abdelkader, who had been in Datsyuk’s line lately, will return to the third line with wingers Daniel Cleary and Joakim Andersson.
However the lines are rolled out, this week starts a very important stretch for the Wings who play seven of the next eight games on the road, and all at least two time zones away.
The Wings enter Tuesday’s NHL slate of games as the No. 5 seed with 29 points in the West. However, the standings are so tight that ever points matters as eight-points separates the fourth seed from last place.
“It's not even the trip, it's tomorrow. We got a game tomorrow,” said Babcock when asked about the importance of this week. “We've got one out of a possible four points here lately, we need to get back on the winning side of things. We've continued to be pretty good defensively. We thought we only gave up very few chances in (Sunday's) game. But we still didn't score. So hopefully with Fil back and spreading it out, we'll have more opportunity to score. We're putting Mule back with Pavel, hopefully there's a twosome there. Fil with Z, hopefully there's a twosome there.”
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