East Lansing — So how do you follow a career-best season?
Justin Abdelkader is excited to go out and try.
Whatever way you analyze it, Abdelkader was at his best last season. All the numbers were career highs — 23 goals, 21 assists, 44 points, eight power-play goals, five game-winning goals, 154 shots on net, and 72 penalty minutes.
And they came at a timely point in Abdelkader’s career. Abelkader, who’ll be 29 in February, will enter unrestricted free agency next summer while in the prime of his career.
A similar season, or improving upon those statistics even more, could mean a lucrative payday for the 6-foot-2, 218-pound power forward.
“You try to not to think about it too much because then it starts affecting your game,” Abdelkader said of free agency. “You just go out and do your best to make a case for yourself. All you can do is take care of yourself and let the business side take care of itself.”
With Abdelkader and forward Darren Helm both potential unrestricted free agents, and goalie Petr Mrazek, defenseman Danny DeKeyser and forward Riley Sheahan all restricted free agents, it’ll take some juggling by general manager Ken Holland to stay under the cap.
Abdelkader, a Muskegon native, went to Michigan State and was a second-round draft pick in 2005. He would love to prolong his Red Wings career.
But Abdelkader is aware that staying with one team throughout an NHL career isn’t easy anymore.
“Obviously you want to stay but you also know it’s a business,” Abdelkader said. “You just don’t know (what’ll happen). I’m just going to focus on having another good year and we’ll see what happens.”
Abdelkader earned a chance to play on scoring lines last season, capitalized on the opportunity, and gained confidence that should carry over.
Former coach Mike Babcock felt Abdelkader had reached the point in his career where a player figures out what it takes to be successful in the NHL.
Abdelkader agreed the timing was right.
“I’m 28 years old, the so called prime of my career, and I feel real good on the ice,” Abdelkader said. “It was a combination of things. Obviously getting bigger minutes and playing with real good players. The year before, when I scored 10 goals, I felt like I had so many chances, and after the season I was like ‘geez, I could have had so many more goals’.
“But last season I was getting more time on the power play and getting chances, and I was finished a lot of them. I didn’t finish all of them, but a lot of them I scored on.”
One good season doesn’t automatically ensure another. But Abdelkader does feel the success he earned last season is a good starting point for the upcoming season.
“You want to build off that and carry it over,” Abdelkader said. “Year to year there are no guarantees. But a good summer training, working hard, and preparing myself for the season, we’ll see what happens.”
Abdelkader took part in this week’s pro camp at Michigan State’s Munn Arena, an opportunity to get ready for training camp and rekindle friendships with former Spartans.
“It’s great preparation for the season coming up,” said Abdelkader, who was there along several other Red Wings, including former Spartan Drew Miller. “They are real good skates. I’ve always enjoyed coming back and skating with the guys here, skating with guys who I’ve played with, or guys who came before or after me.
“It feels good being in the (MSU) locker room again.”
The Red Wings released their NHL Prospects Tournament roster for the Sept. 11-15 tournament in Traverse City.
Highlighting the team will be their three most recent first-round selections — Anthony Mantha (2013), Dylan Larkin (2014) and Evgeny Svechnikov (2015).
Larkin, the 2015 Big Ten Rookie of the Year, has an outside chance of making the NHL roster with.
Other players on the roster include Grand Rapids forwards Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi.