Justin Abdelkader signs pro tryout with Grand Rapids Griffins

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Justin Abdelkader is back in the Red Wings' organization.

Abdelkader signed a professional tryout Friday with the minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.

Abdelkader is expected to make his Griffins' debut Saturday when Grands Rapids plays host to Milwaukee.

"Very excited," said Abdelkader of rejoining the Griffins, where he broke into pro hockey in 2008. "I've been feeling really good the last couple of weeks and getting good practices (in Plymouth Township with the USA junior team) and have been kind of keeping in touch with Bennie (Griffins coach Ben Simon), and some of the Detroit staff and possibly getting some games here and getting back up to game speed."

Justin Abdelkader is back in the Red Wings' organization.

Abdelkader played in Switzerland last season, and also captained Team USA at the men's world championships, where the team won a bronze medal. Abdelkader, though, didn't finish the tournament, suffering a knee injury.

"It's been a little bit of a process since I got injured at the world championships," Abdelkader said. "I was hoping to be ready sooner, and unfortunately it took a little longer."

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Abdelkader, who'll be 34 on Feb. 25, is hopeful this opportunity will land him another chance to play in the NHL.

"It was great last year/ I had a lot of fun and kind of brought that love and passion back for me," Abdelkader said. "We won a championship in Switzerland, which was fun, and to be part of the bronze medal team at world championships felt real good.

"I want to continue playing. I love the game and cherish the moments in the locker room. The long year off with COVID and everything, it was almost a year off from hockey for me and it was probably a good thing. I got to sit back, and still practice and skate with a lot of those guys in Detroit prior to the season starting.

"I still have that itch and passion to play, and will try to play so long as I feel I'm capable of it."

Abdelkader was bought out of his seven-year, $29.75 million contract in October 2020. He is due two-thirds of his remaining salary ($9.5 million), resulting in a total buyout of $6.33 million.

For the Wings, Abdelkader will count against the salary cap through the 2025-26 season:  $1.81 million last season, $2.31 million in each of this season and 2022-23, and $1.1 million the following three years. Once the buyout is completed, Abdelkader can sign with another NHL team.

"It was definitely disappointing but you have to move on and open new doors," said Abdelkader of the Wings buying him out. "I still wanted to play and I felt I could play at a high level. I felt as good as I've felt the last two or three years, last season, and had a good world championships until I got hurt. I still have the drive and passion to play and I love the game."

A Muskegon native who played at Michigan State, Abdelkader was drafted by the Wings in the second round (No. 42 overall) in 2005, and made his NHL debut three years later.

He played in 739 regular-season games over 13 seasons in Detroit, with 252 points (106 goals). After scoring 23 (2014-15) and 19 goals (2015-16), Abdelkader never was able to come close to those totals again.

Abdelkader's offensive production declined in recent seasons, capped in 2019-20 when he totaled three points (all assists) in 49 games with a minus-14 rating.

Coach Jeff Blashill was glad to see Abdelkader able to get an opportunity to play pro hockey, particularly in Grand Rapids. When Blashill coached the Griffins, forward Mike Knuble signed in a similar fashion and eventually signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.

“I knew Justin has been skating, coming off a major injury, trying to get back at it a little bit, and seeing what opportunities would be available,” Blashill said. “It’s pretty cool for those guys who grew up in west Michigan to potentially play in Grand Rapids at the end of their career. I wish him luck.

Brotherly love

Forwards and brothers Givani and Gemel Smith are excited to be NHL teammates.

Gemel, claimed off waivers Wednesday, took part in the Wings' morning skate Friday. He is expected to play on Givani's line.

“We’ve never played together, never played against each other ever, so this is the first time we’re ever going to be on a team together,” Gemel said. “It was a dream come true for me. I’m excited to play with him, alongside him. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come by that often.”

The Smith brothers are the first such combination to play for the Wings since Frank and Pete Mahovlich in 1969.

“We play a lot together in the summertime,” Givani said. “We train together, so we’re always together on the ice and off the ice. So now that we’re together playing hockey for real now, it’s crazy."

Gemel found out he was claimed by the Wings on social media after waking up from a pre-game nap in Rochester. When he scrolled down on his phone, he saw texts from Tampa general manager Julian BriseBois about being claimed by Detroit.

The Wings were Gemel's favorite team growing up in Toronto.

“It was just something, the team that I first loved since I was like three years old. I just always stuck with them," Gemel said. "My favorite player was always Sergei Fedorov, so I had a Fedorov jersey and my favorite goalie was Dominik Hasek."

The two brothers are not rooming together.

“We used to have bunk beds growing up, so I don’t want that anymore," Givani said.

Welcome back

Former Wings forward Luke Glendening returned to Little Caesars Arena as a member of the Dallas Stars.

Glendening, 32, signed a two-year contract worth $3 million ($1.5 million cap hit) last summer as an unrestricted free agent, ending an eight-year career with the Wings.

The Wings and Stars played each other once this season, in Dallas. The East Grand Rapids native admitted it was going to be strange playing against the Wings at LCA.

"I'd be lying if I said it's just another game," Glendening said. "To be back at the rink, in this city, it's something that's always going to be special for me. It means a lot to me. The people here, the fans, I'm excited for it.

"It's exciting to be back. I have a lot of family coming in today, making the trek from Grand Rapids. It should be a lot of fun."

Having been through the early parts of the rebuilding process, and sensing new opportunities elsewhere, Glendening felt it was time for a change.

"I love the people in Detroit and the organization but it just felt like it was time do something different," Glendening said. "I have the utmost respect for the organization and city and fans. But it's been a good change for me."


Twitter: @tkulfan

Red Wings at Predators

Faceoff: 8:30 p.m., Saturday, Bridgestone Arena

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Outlook: The Predators (25-14-3) won the only other game between the teams this season. ... Nashville ended a four-game winless streak Thursday, defeating Winnipeg 5-2. ... D Roman Josi is in the Norris Trophy discussion with a brilliant season (13 goals, 42 points).