Abdelkader released from Griffins tryout, is alternate for Team USA

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Justin Abdelakder is gone from the Grand Rapids Griffins, and headed for the U.S. Olympic team.

Abdelkader has been released from his professional tryout with the Griffins, so he could be an alternate for Team USA at the Olympics in Beijing.

Norway's Tobias Lindstrom, left, challenges for the puck with Justin Abdelkader of the US during the Ice Hockey World Championship group B match between Norway and United States at the Arena in Riga, Latvia, Saturday, May 29, 2021.

NHL players were supposed to participate in these Olympics. But with more than 100 games postponed because of COVID-19 — and concerns about contracting the virus in China, which could keep players there for over a month — both the NHL and the players association decided against participating.

The three-week window which was blocked out for the Olympics (the Olympics run from Feb. 4-20) will be used by the NHL to make up postponed games.

The NHL's decision left national hockey federations scrambling to fill rosters. A veteran player like Abdelkader, who last spring captained Team USA at the men's world championships, is a natural addition.

More: Red Wings prospect report: Edvinsson and Berggren could be the next Seider and Raymond

Upon signing with the Griffins last week, Abdelkader talked about his passion for the game.

"I want to continue playing. I love the game and cherish the moments in the locker room," Abdelkader said. "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."

Olympic alternates are vital for this particular tournament because of the always present concern of players testing positive for the virus.

Abdelkader, 34, played three games for the Griffins, with no points.

Last season, Abdelkader led Switzerland's EV Zug team to a national title, scoring 10 goals in 22 games.

The Wings bought out the final three seasons of  Abdelkader's seven-year contract (worth $29.75 million) in October 2020. Abdelkader played 13 seasons for the Wings, appearing in 739 games with 106 goals and 126 assists.

Leddy leads

Defenseman Nick Leddy hasn't put up the offensive numbers the Wings likely expected. He went into Friday's game with 11 points (one goal) and has struggled defensively with a minus-22 rating.

But coach JeBlashill has been happy with what Leddy has brought to the lineup, especially from a leadership aspect.

Jeff Blashill has been happy with what Nick Leddy has brought to the lineup, especially from a leadership aspect.

"Nick's played good, he's been a consistent performer for us most of the season," Blashill said. "Even in the last (game), and I would take the last game out of the equation for most of the guys because I didn't think we played our 'A' game. But outside of that, he's played real good. I've been real happy with his performance and leadership."

More: Red Wings back Filip Zadina as he tries to shake prolonged scoring slump

Leddy has played in winning organizations such as the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks, as did Marc Staal with the New York Rangers and Danny DeKeyser earlier in his career with the Wings.

Blashill said such experience is invaluable.

"Having guys that know how to win, and have been around winning teams, and are winners themselves, is extremely important," Blashill said. "Just to draw from their experiences. We've got a number of our defensemen that have had real good success, both in the regular season and playoffs, Leds (Leddy), Stalls (Staal) and DK (DeKeyser) have that kind of experience and they can impart that wisdom on the younger players, and specifically on the younger defensemen."

Ice chips

The Wings recalled forward Gemel Smith from Grand Rapids. Smith, 27, played in three games with the Griffins after being claimed off waivers last week from Tampa. Smith had one assist, a plus-one rating, two shots and eight penalty minutes with Grand Rapids.

... Forward Michael Rasmussen feels the Wings can improve defensively by taking better care of the puck.

"Once we get back there and kind of get in our defensive zone, we're doing an OK job," Rasmussen said. "It's just more so not spending too much time there, not giving the other team rush chances, is the biggest thing. We just got to take care of the puck and not play as much in our own end, especially off the rush."

Maple Leafs at Red Wings 

Faceoff: 7 p.m., Saturday, Little Caesars  Arena.

TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Leafs (26-10-3) make their first appearance at Little Caesars Arena in what should be a raucous atmosphere. ... Toronto has regrouped from last spring's bitter first-round playoff elimination with a terrific season. ... C Auston Matthews (25 goals) and D Morgan Rielly (29 assists) are leading scorers, and Port Huron G Jack Campbell (20-6-3, 2.26 GAA, .926 SVS) is having a breakthrough season.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan