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Abdelkader makes strong case for top line role

Sep 16, 2013, 9:02 AM EDT

Justin Abdelkader

Detroit Red wings coach Mike Babcock decided to enter the 2013-14 campaign with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk playing together, but the big question going into training camp was who would round out that first line.

The initial idea was to give different players a chance to compete for that spot, but so far Justin Abdelkader has taken a clear lead. For example, during Sunday’s scrimmage Abdelkader had a goal and two assists while playing alongside the Red Wings’ stars, according to the Detroit News.

Getting points on a line with Zetterberg and Datsyuk might not sound like a hard task, but Zetterberg would argue otherwise because when he plays with Datsyuk, their other linemate doesn’t usually get the puck much.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock agrees that Abdelkader’s strong showing so far in the preseason isn’t merely the byproduct of him playing on the top line.

“I think confidence is the hardest thing to get,” Babcock told the Detroit Free Press. “You’ve got to earn it. No one can give it to you. He’s an every-dayer. He took advantage of an opportunity last year, and now he’s making more plays for those guys and he understands that when they give him the puck, to give it back to them.”

Babcock hasn’t ruled out the possibility of giving Daniel Cleary a shot on the first line, but for now he feels that Abdelkader is doing what’s needed to secure his current role.

  1. polegojim - Sep 16, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    I could agree… if he’ll continue that trend and not disappear for long stretches.

    Lot’s of potential… that needs to become a regular reality. If he’s found his confidence… then KEEP it.

  2. 4everwingsfan - Sep 16, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    I think late last season that Abby really showed his grit playing with Pav. There has been a big open space in front of the net since Homer left and I think he could fill it.

  3. rainyday56 - Sep 16, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    How the heck does a player who is borderline PTO status (Cleary) wind up on the top line of a top contending team? Right, Gary Bettman’s NHL …

    • cheliostwin - Sep 16, 2013 at 10:48 AM

      Babcock has said during training camp and preseason games he will try every line combination he can think of, and let the play of the players determine who ends up on which lines. With two very talented puck handlers in Zetterberg and Datsyuk, that third linemate will be responsible for putting the body on opposing players, or going to the front of the net. What Babcock is looking for is a player with lots of heart and grit, willing to get banged up a bit. Both Abdelkader and Cleary fit that description, and Cleary is playing for a new contract, so he will want to prove himself worthy of more money. Last season Cleary’s biggest problem seemed to be lack of confidence; when driving the net with the puck, he would usually pass it to a teammate instead of shooting, or take a weak shot that was easily stopped. Maybe playing with the two stars night in and night out will help his confidence, maybe not. That’s what the preseason is for, to figure out who fits in best where.

    • hockey412 - Sep 16, 2013 at 11:59 AM

      I agree with Cleiostwin, and add that a lot of times what players like Zetterberg and Datsyuk need is someone to retrieve dump ins, and like he said aren’t afraid of getting bumped a bit. Same strategy with Kunitz/Crosby in Pittsburgh, only Kunitz has shown he also has more offensive ability than given credit for. Either of those two guys might show the same thing in the right situation.

      • hockey412 - Sep 16, 2013 at 12:00 PM

        I meant Cheliostwin, sorry.

    • shoobiedoobin - Sep 16, 2013 at 12:18 PM

      Because of chemistry, something online fans seem to have no concern with. Instead we treat our teams like trading cards or video games and wonder why we don’t just stack stack stack. You see this all over the league.

  4. shoobiedoobin - Sep 16, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    Also, Cleary had better remove his head from his ass if he plays with Hank and Pav. No more coughing it up every single time he crosses the blue line, no more stupid shots or horrible passes. But really the worst aspect are the turnovers. He was the biggest detriment to the team last year among forwards. He destroyed entire shifts with his offensive zone turnovers. It got so bad that as soon as you saw 11 carry the puck into the zone you knew the other team would have it in about 3-5 seconds. That outweighed any other on-ice positive. But he “scored” in the playoffs…ddeerrrrrr.

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