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It's been a wild ride for Wings' Abdelkader

Tuesday, 10.14.2008 / 1:17 PM ET / Features
Detroit Red Wings
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It\'s been a wild ride for Wings\' Abdelkader
Less than a year after scoring the biggest goal of his career to help lead Michigan State to its third national championship, there was Justin Abdelkader preparing to hit the ice at Joe Louis Arena after exchanging his collegiate jersey for the red and white of the Detroit Red Wings.

Abdelkader kept his cool, despite the fact his stall was stationed right beside veteran goalies Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek, guys he marveled at on television in previous seasons.

"It was surreal and unbelievable at the same time," Abdelkader said. "I grew up in (Muskegon) Michigan and followed guys like (Nicklas) Lidstrom and (Kris) Draper and all the guys on those Cup-winning teams. Now here I am, a 20-year-old kid who just finished his junior year in college, getting the opportunity to wear a Wings jersey and skate on the ice in that arena with the NHL team. I skated before in 'The Joe' with Michigan State, but this was a totally different experience."

Abdelkader would hold his own that evening, earning 16 shifts and totaling 11:20 of ice time with three hits in a 3-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets as Detroit secured the sixth Presidents' Trophy in team history.

"Putting that jersey on just gave me the chills," he said. "This was the goal in my life, to play for the Red Wings one day, and to get this opportunity is something special."

This was the goal in my life, to play for the Red Wings one day, and to get this opportunity is something special. - Justin Abdelkader
A lot has happened to Abdelkader in a very short period of time, but the 21-year-old left wing has taken it all in stride. He forfeited his college eligibility and attended Wings training camp this fall, but intends to "chip away"' at his degree with just 26 credits remaining. His storybook career includes earning "Mr. Hockey" in 2005 as the top scholastic player in Michigan at Mona Shores High School.

"I give my high school coach (Shawn Zimmerman) a lot of credit for developing me into the player I am," Abdelkader said. "We had a good team in high school and I played on an unbelievable line. When I was up for Mr. Hockey, I really didn't think I was going to get it, but when I did it was quite an honor and that's when everything started fast-tracking. It was a whirlwind for sure."

The year he won Mr. Hockey, Abdelkader was drafted by the Red Wings in the second round (No. 42). In 2007, he would score the decisive goal with 18.9 seconds left in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game against Boston College. It's a goal Abdelkader can still recall frame by frame.

"There was under one minute left and we came down on a 3-on-1 break and I remember shooting and hitting the right post, so I felt like I had just blew my only chance to score since you normally only get one good opportunity at that point in a game," Abdelkader said. "But we regrouped and our defense pinched down and I cycled up and took a spot. Winger (Tim) Kennedy won a battle behind the net, made a quick turn and hit me with a pass right on the tape coming through the slot and I kind of just bang it home. From that point on, I just kind of blanked out because guys were jumping all over the place."

On April 4, 2008, Abdelkader signed an entry-level contract with the Wings.

"My season had just ended at Michigan State (in 2008) after our loss to Colorado College in the regional finals and I had no idea Detroit was going to sign me so fast, but I  got the phone call from my agent saying that the Wings would like to sign me and possibly play me on Thursday (against Columbus)," Abdelkader said. "I got into two games, which was an awesome experience for me and I think that really helped me entering training camp this year. Having the opportunity to practice with the Wings during the playoff run and getting to know some of the guys in the locker room will only be to my benefit down the road."

Could the next chapter in the life of Abdelkader get any better? For starters, it'll be interesting to see how long it takes before the 6-foot-1, 215-pound grinder becomes a regular in the Red Wings lineup. After holding his own at the eight-team Traverse City prospects tournament in September and subsequent Wings training camp, Abdelkader was reassigned to Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, on Oct. 6.

"If he plays well, he could force his way on at some point," Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "If he's going to make us better, he'll be on our team, but our history has been that it's hard for young players to make our team. We like players with a professional foundation, but that said, Darren Helm played just seven regular-season games with us last year and then played a nice role for us during our playoff run."

At the end of the 2007-08 season, Helm was called up from Grand Rapids. He played a vital role as Detroit's fourth-line center in 18 postseason games, posting 2 goals and 2 assists.

"We've got 12 NHL forwards on one-way contracts and many of the younger guys end up fighting for those final spots," Holland said. "But Justin's a local right up the road from Muskegon and we drafted him because we liked what we saw when he played in the USHL (for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders)."

Abdelkader scored 27 goals and 25 assists in 60 games with Cedar Rapids before stepping on the campus at Michigan State as a freshman in 2005-06. In 124 collegiate games, Abdelkader scored 44 goals, 95 points and 281 penalty minutes.

"We like his size and strength and we like that he plays hard," Holland said. "He can play center and left wing, be a good checker and chip in with the odd goal every now and again; that's what we envisioned when we draft him."

While earning a roster spot is Abdelkader's ultimate goal, he realizes it may take some time.

"Whatever happens, it's an opportunity of a lifetime," Abdelkader said. "I just plan to go out there, play my best, and then hope for the best."

Author: Mike G. Morreale | Staff Writer




1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69


H. Zetterberg 82 13 37 -15 50
P. Datsyuk 66 16 33 7 49
D. Larkin 80 23 22 11 45
T. Tatar 81 21 24 4 45
G. Nyquist 82 17 26 -2 43
J. Abdelkader 82 19 23 -16 42
M. Green 74 7 28 -6 35
B. Richards 68 10 18 4 28
D. Helm 77 13 13 -2 26
N. Kronwall 64 3 23 -21 26
P. Mrazek 27 16 6 .921 2.33
J. Howard 14 14 5 .906 2.80