Xavier Ouellet, 21, getting used to life with the Wings
Detroit — Don't get Xavier Ouellet wrong. Every time you're called up to the NHL, it's a great thing — and he relishes being in the league.
But this is the third time this season Ouellet has been recalled from Grand Rapids, so the uniqueness could be wearing down a little bit.
"I'm still very excited every time I get called up, that's for sure," Ouellet said after Wednesday's morning skate, before the Wings played the Devils. "But I'm a little more used to it, that's for sure. This is my 10th game (in the NHL) and I feel good, feel part of the guys here, and it's easier every time I get back."
Ouellet was promoted Tuesday when the Red Wings put Jakub Kindl (strained elbow) on short-term injured reserve.
Ouellet, 21, has one goal and one assist, with a plus-3 rating, in his previous nine games.
A 2011 second-round draft pick who has been a prized prospect the past few seasons, Ouellet has done nothing to dispel the notion he could be an NHL fixture in the not too distant future.
"Good player," coach Mike Babcock said. "He knows how to play and he competes hard. He moves the puck and has good hockey sense.
"He's been effective for us."
Ouellet has passed Kindl and Brian Lashoff on the depth chart in previous stays on the roster, and Wednesday he was placed in the lineup with Lashoff being a healthy scratch.
For a young player such as Ouellet, knowing he's playing and has the confidence of the coaching staff is a good feeling.
"I just try to stay ready (in Grand Rapids)," Ouellet said. "It feels good for sure (to be called up). I don't' think they would call me up to put me in the stands. Everytime they call me up, I get ready to play and they make their decision and all I can do is play."
Ouellet's parents, brother and sister all were in Grand Rapids and planning on celebrating the New Year there.
Instead, the entire Ouellet clan hopped into Xavier's car and drove down I-96 to get to Joe Louis Arena.
"We're all at the hotel," said Ouellet, who'll play in the NHL in front of his brother and sister for the first time. "They'll enjoy the game and we'll have a good night to celebrate the New Year.
"It'll be a big day."
Ouellet played 14:01 on 21 shifts in Wednesday's 3-1 victory over New Jersey, with one shot on net and credited with two hits and one blocked shot.
Heading into Wednesday's games, the Red Wings had the No. 1-ranked power play in the NHL at 24.3 percent, and the No. 2-ranked penalty kill (87.7), trailing only Chicago (90.5).
Babcock believes a big reason for the Red Wings' success thus far has been the special teams.
"All you have to do is look at the expectations for the Red Wings coming into the year," said Babcock, noting the modest predictions by analysts in the preseason. "One of the reasons we're not like that is because of our specialty teams. Our coaches have done a good job, our players have done a good job, our attention to detail has been good.
"The other thing about it is, we didn't get off to a good start on the power play. But through good teaching and guys buying in and a good plan and execution and having good players, we've been able to execute in both of those situations.
"Now we have to keep that going."
The Red Wings didn't score on four power-play attempts Wednesday, while killing all three Devils power plays.
The Red Wings hadn't played a New Year's Eve game at Joe Louis for the last two seasons before Wednesday.
The 2012 lockout, then having the Winter Classic last year's New Year's Day, scrapped the New Year's Eve game tradition.
But a festive sell-out crowd was back roaring Wednesday, glad the tradition was back.
"It's New Year's, people get all excited, and fans come down here," Babcock said. "(But) we need to win a game."