Red Wings want Justin Abdelkader to play on the 'edge of reckless'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Justin Abdelkader

Detroit – Justin Abdelkader has been a 20-goal scorer in his career, and that’s something not a lot of players on this current Red Wings roster can say.

Coach Jeff Blashill believes Abdelkader can still be that type of player, never mind the slide Abdelkader has been on the last three seasons.

“He’s a guy who has scored in the past,” Blashill said. “If you look around, there’s not a long history of a bunch of guys that are goal-scorers. He’s somebody that has. His role is a bit different, but he still has.

“After you get past those first few guys, there’s not many guys who have scored 20 goals in their careers. It doesn’t mean they can’t do it this year. It just means they haven’t.

“He’s somebody that has and I’d like to get Abby playing at a super-high level and so would he.”

Abdekader, 32, only had 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 71 games last season. Compare that to when Abdelkader had a 23-goal season in 2014-15, and 19 goals the following year.

Since those two breakthrough seasons, Abdelkader has stalled. He’s scored seven, 13, and last season’s six goals in the last three years.

Abdelkader often skated on lines with Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg during his big offensive seasons, and thrived as a net-front presence for the two offensive stars.

Blashill believes Abdelkader can still flourish, but without playing with prolific offensive players.

"You can debate whether or not he can score without those guys," Blashill said. "We'll see. He's somebody that has had a scoring touch. He had it when he was 16, when I first saw him. He had it when he was at Michigan State. He had it in the minors and he's had it at times here.

"Not only was he playing with good players at that time, whether it was Pavel or Z, or both, but you get more ice time. Let's see how he plays."

Justin Abdelkader

Counting this season, Abdelkader has four years left on the seven-year, $29.75 million contract he signed before 2016-17. It’s a contract that has been much discussed and vented about by Wings’ fans on social media.

Abdelkader believes he can rebound from last season’s offensive drop.

“Everyone has off-years in their career, right?” Abdelkader said. “It’s a time that you try to refocus and look back on the season as a whole and what can you do differently to be better?

“I feel good. I’m just going to go out and play the way I can play and hopefully contribute this year. Whether it’s point, penalty kill, power play, being physical, doing all the little things.”

Slowed by a minor injury the last week, Abdelkader made his exhibition season debut Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Abdelkader assisted on Ryan Kuffner’s goal, played 17 minutes 20 seconds, with three shots and a team-high six hits.

The physicality Abdelkader exhibited with the hits, the ability to be a net-front presence, is what Blashill wants to see from his veteran forward and team leader. Abdelkader is one of the alternate captains.

“There’s times he’s been more physically engaged, really impactful physically, than others,” Blashill said. “I’d like to have him play teetering on the edge of reckless.

“We don’t want to give up outnumbered rushes because we’re diving down trying to make big hits – and that’s not an easy thing because when you do play reckless, sometimes you give up chances. It’s kind of finding that fine line.

“But the physicality, scoring touch, net presence, those are things he can bring to the table that not everyone in the league has – not everybody on the team has.”

­­Abdelkader changed his workout routine over the summer to get ready for the upcoming season.

The way the NHL is moving toward becoming more of a speed league, with a heavy emphasis on playing fast and quick, has made Abdelkader work to fit in to that evolving style.

“More focus on speed and quickness,” said Abdelkader of his training. “The game’s so fluid, so fast, I’m just making sure I’m giving myself the best opportunity to go out and be the player I know I can be.”

Maple Leafs at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena

TV/radio: FSD-Plus/97.1 FM 

Outlook: The Wings and Maple Leafs begin a home-and-home series (Saturday’s game is in Toronto) that will conclude the exhibition season for Detroit. ... Both teams are expected to dress at least a moderately competitive, NHL-caliber roster, with the regular season approaching.

Twitter @tkulfan