Ted Kulfan's top NHL trade deadline targets
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Detroit — Gustav Nyquist is quick to single out who might have held him back a bit from being the playmaking wing he is now.
Nyquist is more of a playmaker, and perhaps not the goal-scoring wing that so many envisioned when Nyquist first joined the Red Wings and had 20-goal seasons.
Darn you, Henrik Zetterberg.
“Hank always wanted the puck in the past,” said Nyquist, who laughs at his own joke, then is terrified at how that could be interpreted. “No, no, no. I’m joking. That’s not true. I'm just kidding.”
The Zetterberg part, sure. Of course.
But Nyquist as more of a passer, creator, playmaker? That's no joke. Even he sees himself more of that kind of player.
“I’ve always seen myself a little more of a playmaker than a goal scorer,” Nyquist said. “Naturally, the way I was brought into this team, playing with Hank, who was one of the best playmakers around, you’re just trying to get open for him because he’d make so many plays.
“It kind of turned me more into a finisher than I used to be in the past. But I’ve always been kind of an assist guy.”
Nyquist has a team-high 33 assists this season, and his 47 points — he has 14 goals — only trail Dylan Larkin’s 53 points.
Well on his way to breaking his previous career highs in points (54) and assists (36), Nyquist is having a career season in the final year of his contract.
Nyquist can be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. And, if the Red Wings want to pass on re-signing him, or the two sides can’t come to terms, they’ll likely trade him before the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
The Wings wouldn’t mind bringing back Nyquist for money close to what he is making currently (a salary cap hit of $4.75 million), and Nyquist’s preference would be to remain with the Wings, the only organization with which he’s played.
But it's a business, and general manager Ken Holland needs to acquire assets whenever possible.
“I’d be lying if I said you didn’t hear anything,” Nyquist said of the endless speculation. “You see and hear the rumors, whatever they are. I’m not too much on social media but you hear about them.”
Nobody knows exactly what’ll happen before the NHL trade deadline. It appears with a greater amount of sellers than buyers, playoff-contending teams looking to get stronger are going to have their choice of rental players on the end of contracts.
In terms of the Red Wings, Nyquist, along with goaltender Jimmy Howard, forward Thomas Vanek, and defensemen Niklas Kronwall, Nick Jensen and Luke Witkowski are potential free agents.
Not all of them will be moved. There isn’t a market for all of them.
And the players who are marketable to certain teams, perhaps the WIngs won’t be offered much in return.
“The market is going to dictate what we’re thinking, what we will do,” Holland said.
Nyquist is, arguably, the Wings’ most intriguing asset heading into the trade deadline.
A playmaking winger having his best statistical season who has been in the playoffs and understands how to play with premier centers, Nyquist would seem to be an attractive commodity.
Wingers such as Artemi Panarin (Columbus), Mark Stone (Ottawa) and Wayne Simmonds (Philadelphia) are big-name players around the NHL who are likely to be dealt.
But there will be a few teams who’ll miss out on those three. And they’re likely to still want to add to their roster.
Do those teams circle back to Holland and make a substantial offer?
“We have a couple of more weeks left. I try not to think about any of it,” Nyquist said of the speculation. “But I like said, I’d be lying if I said you don’t hear anything about it.
“But in saying that, I personally just try to focus on hockey. That’s all I can control — and time will tell, with whatever happens.”
Nyquist feels he’s building chemistry with Larkin, similar to what he had with Zetterberg for so many years.
“I’ve enjoying playing with Larks, and we’ve built some chemistry,” Nyquist said of his offensive resurgence. “Maybe the puck has gone a little easier this year. I can’t really put a finger on it.
“I mean, I was playing with a great player last year, too (in Zetterberg).”
Consistency always has been a term associated with Nyquist — and usually, not enough consistency, in various aspects.
But coach Jeff Blashill said he feels Nyquist has been competing and battling at a high level this season, consistently.
“His compete level has been real high,” Blashill said. “That part of it, that consistency, and just that compete on a night-in, night-out basis, has been real good. When it’s real good, he’s a real good player.”