Abdelkader an ‘easy choice’ as Wings alternate captain

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Justin Abdelkader

Detroit – Justin Abdelkader has been named one of the Red Wings’ alternate captains, coach Jeff Blashill announced Tuesday.

Abdelkader, a Muskegon native who played at Michigan State, replaces Pavel Datsyuk, who left for his native Russia last summer.

Abdelkader, 29, was a 2005 second-round draft choice who has gradually ascended into his present leadership role.

“It was a natural choice for me, it was a natural choice for (general manager) Ken Holland, from a coaching staff perspective, from a management perspective and from organization perspective; it was an easy choice,” Blashill said. “Justin has those great leadership qualities to be a great captain.

“We have a lot of leaders in our room but the guys wearing the ‘A’s are a special thing, especially in this organization. He embodies everything we want to be about.

“We want to outwork people, he’s a worker. We want to out-detail people, he’s detailed. We want to be selfless, he’s selfless. To me, it’s a great choice.”

Wings' Smith ready to elevate his impact

Abdelkader, who grew up cheering the Red Wings, was thrilled by the announcement.

“It’s an honor,” Abdelkader said. “It’s crazy. Thinking back and talking to Blash this morning about my first few days here in Detroit and now getting this honor, it’s obviously a huge honor. I’m excited.”

Being a Michigan native made it a little extra special.

“For sure, growing up and watching the Red Wings, idolizing so many of the players and getting the opportunity to come in here in 2008 and learning under those guys, how to be a pro and how to train and how to go about your business every day, that helped,” Abdelkader said. “Just the great leaders we’ve had here in the past, it’s helped and I’ve learned a lot from them.”

Being around the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg has been a learning experience for Abdelkader.

“Those guys put egos aside, everybody buys into winning as a team and putting individual accolades aside,” said Abdelkader, who grew up cheering Steve Yzerman and the Grind Line.

“Everyone was an Yzerman fan, for sure,” Abdelkader said. “I love the Grind Line, (Kris) Draper, (Kirk) Maltby, (Darren) McCarty and Joe Kocur. I watched Ozzie (Chris Osgood) a lot. Just had so many good players and players that played their roles on their team and were real good at what they did.”

Abdelkader will serve as an alternate captain along with Niklas Kronwall, with Zetterberg the captain.

Zetterberg felt it was an obvious choice.

“No surprise in the locker room with that one,” Zetterberg said. “Abby has been a big part of our team for many years now. He’s been one of the leaders, and to us, he’s an obvious choice.”

Said Kronwall, of Abdelkader’s promotion: “Most guys expected that. I’m happy for Abby. He’s deserved it. He’s definitely the right choice.”

Injury update

Zetterberg and Kronwall, both recovering from knee injuries, are pointing toward the Oct. 13 regular-season opener in Tampa.

But it appears Zetterberg might be a little ahead of Kronwall.

Zetterberg practiced with the team Tuesday for the first time this camp.

“It was fun to be out there with the boys, good to have more than four skaters around,” Zetterberg said. “The goal is Tampa for the 13th and nothing has changed. It’s getting better, we’ve been ramping up the skating the last few days.”

Zetterberg admitted the recovery has been “slower than we expected” but added “it’s definitely getting better.”

Zetterberg would like to play in Saturday’s exhibition finale against Toronto but will be cautious.

“It would be nice to get one (game) in; I don’t think it’s optimal to go straight into Tampa,” Zetterberg said. “In the same way, we’re not doing it if it’s going to risk anything.”

Zetterberg also said he’ll start the season on a wing, playing with center Frans Nielsen.

This will, ideally, lessen the workload for Zetterberg on the ice, who sees the situation similar to when he played with Pavel Datsyuk on a line for many years.

Kronwall did some light skating Tuesday but admits he’s some distance from playing.

“Moving in the right direction, no doubt starting to feel good out there, but still a few steps more need to be taken,” Kronwall said. “Ideally you have a few games of preseason but as of right now, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Ice chips

Tomas Tatar, Frans Nielsen and Thomas Vanek all have arrived from the World Cup and have begun skating with the team.

Red Wings at Penguins

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, PPG Paints Arena

TV / radio: NHL Network / WWJ 950

Notable: The Red Wings will play their second game in two days and are in a stretch of four games in five days to end the exhibition season. … The defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins will not have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, both of whom just returned from competing in the World Cup.