Tampa, Fla. — Mike Babcock spent time in Grand Rapids during the 2012 NHL lockout.

And it was during that time Luke Glendening caught the eye of the Red Wings coach. Babcock saw a hard-working, no-nonsense forward who could use his speed, work ethic and grit to help his team in a variety of ways.

"I knew he'd play in the NHL," Babcock said of the undrafted free agent. "But I thought he'd be a fourth-line winger. I didn't think he'd be as important as he is."

Few did.

But when the Red Wings came calling, the 5-foot-11, 194-pounder left Michigan for the bright lights of the NHL.

"It's amazing when you're competitive what can happen for you," Babcock said. "If you're competitive, and work hard every day and live in the weight room and do the right things, you get better, and that's just the way it is.

"He's maximizing his skill set and his attributes. He's a competitive guy. He's hard to play against."

Glendening has played in all 48 games this season, with nine points (six goals) and a plus-3 rating. He's one of the team's top penalty killers, and his 85 hits trails only Justin Abdelkader (94).

The East Grand Rapids High graduate entered Thursday's game against the Lightning ranked 13th in the NFL in faceoff win percentage (55.4), an area he wanted to improve heading into this season.

Still, Glendening isn't satisfied.

"I have a long way to go," he said. "I'm happy things are going in the right direction, but there is a lot of room for improvement to be made."

The fact Babcock has been a fan of Glendening's since Grand Rapids has helped.

"I felt he was in my corner, and obviously it's nice when the coach knows you and it gives you a little bit of confidence," Glendening said. "But I want to work hard regardless. It helps your game improve a little bit, you can play a little more relaxed. But you can't take your foot off the gas."

And he hasn't.

After scoring two goals against the Panthers on Tuesday — his first career two-goal game — Glendening was excited.

But teammate Stephen Weiss, who set up both goals, appeared more excited.

"He battles so hard, and to see him get a couple (of goals) is awesome," Weiss said. "You probably saw the big smiles on my face and (linemate Riley) Sheahan's faces. He does all the little things that don't always show up on the scoresheet."