Red Wings' Justin Abdelkader could switch to center upon return from injury

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit —  When Justin Abdelkader returns to the lineup, he might be playing a little more at center.

It’s a position Abdelkader played often early in his career, but he’s much more a wing in recent years.

But coach Jeff Blashill is toying with the idea of using Abdelkader in the middle, given some of the tools the former Michigan State standout could bring to the position and the ability to shape the Red Wings' lineup a particular way.

Red Wings' Justin Abdelkader could be playing center when he returns from injury.

“Potentially it would allow our lines to be in spots that I want," Blashill said. "Abby is a good-sized body (6-foot-2, 213 pounds) who is a responsible defensive player. It’s just something I’ve thought about.”

Abdelkader is quite comfortable taking faceoffs and is 50 percent for his career in the circle.

“He’s taken faceoffs, especially on the left side, and done a good job,” Blashill said. “But again, he’s a bigger body who has done a good job in down low coverage. With some of the tweaks we’ve made in the defensive zone, that’s going to be an important thing.”

Abdelkader has been out since Nov. 10, missing the last 11 games with an upper-body injury.

At Wednesday’s practice, Abdelkader skated on a line with Darren Helm and Frans Nielsen. It was the second consecutive day Abdelkader worked with the team, but Wednesday’s practice with no apparent restrictions.

At this point, it would appear Abdelkader is on schedule to play Saturday against Pittsburgh.

“I’m hoping (Abdelkader) will have a real good practice Friday and potentially be ready (for Saturday),” Blashill said. “Abby was playing good hockey when he got hurt. Part of the reason he got hurt was he was sacrificing for the team and blocking shots, so it will be nice to get him back in the lineup, and it gives us some options.”

Getting acquainted

All the practice time available this week is also a good opportunity for the Wings to fully incorporate all the newcomers who’ve arrived since the preseason.

The Wings have added forwards Robby Fabbri and Brendan Perlini, defenseman Alex Biega, and goalie Eric Comrie in trades while bringing up defenseman Dylan McIlrath and forward Filip Zadina from Grand Rapids (although Zadina is back down with the Griffins this week).

To say the least, it’s been a revolving door.

“We’ve had a number of injuries, so we’ve had a lot of different people in here, in and out,” Blashill said. “We’ve made some trades, so then you have different people in and out, and you lose some continuity. That’s the reality.

“When I coached in the American League (in Grand Rapids) it was an every game type of challenge. Sometimes you have so many people in and out, you lose continuity.”

Wait and see

In regard to Zadina and forward Taro Hirose, who were both sent back to Grand Rapids Tuesday, it appears the pair could be back with the Wings by Saturday’s game against the Penguins.

Or, maybe not.

The Griffins played Wednesday, and play again Friday, and general manager Steve Yzerman and Blashill will decide what to do with the two young forwards soon.

Blashill said Yzerman will attend the Griffins’ game Wednesday and watch both players.

“We’ll make a decision after (Wednesday’s game),” Blashill said.

Practice time

The Wings went hard, for well over an hour, at practice for a second consecutive day Wednesday with no game until the weekend while having the prime opportunity to go over numerous details.

“We’ve gone a little bit longer, certainly getting the things done that we want to address,” Blashill said. “We’re working towards getting better in those areas. We’re certainly working in those areas.”

Injury update

Forward Anthony Mantha and goaltender Jimmy Howard are apparently no closer to returning.

Mantha suffered an apparent lower-body injury Nov. 23 in New Jersey and hasn’t yet begun skating.

The loss of Mantha, who leads the team with 12 goals, has been detrimental offensively for a team with so little depth of scoring.

“I would say he’s not on the ice yet, and once he’s on the ice, it’s going to take a little bit,” Blashill said.

Howard was hurt Nov. 27 against Toronto, in the first period, and isn’t likely to return for weeks, it appears.

“Once we get Jimmy on the ice, once he’s healthy enough to be on the ice, then we’ll be able to evaluate how close he is,” Blashill said.

Defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Trevor Daley have also been out long-term, and there's no sign of either returning in the next couple weeks.

Twitter: @tkulfan