By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – After starting the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, 24-year-old Gustav Nyquist has more than proved he belongs in the NHL. He has plenty of reason to be satisfied with what he has accomplished so far, leading the Detroit Red Wings with 28 goals after stepping up on a team plagued by injuries.
Instead, Nyquist feels a sense of urgency perhaps more strongly than ever.
Nyquist played with the Red Wings in 2013, when they upset the Anaheim Ducks in the first round and took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to seven games in the second. The Game 7 loss stung, somewhat tainting the playoff experience. Even so, the Red Wings had gone much farther than nearly anyone anticipated.
“You learn that anything can happen, and nothing’s over,” Nyquist said. “Nothing’s for granted.”
Nyquist has realized quickly the importance of embracing each chance to make an impact, not only because it could lead to an even bigger opportunity, but also because it could be the only such chance that ever comes around.
“What I learned as a young player, I think, is you’re probably not going to get too many opportunities,” Nyquist said. “That’s what the older guys told me, at least down in Grand Rapids. You think, ‘Ah, we’ll take it next year,’ but you don’t get too many chances, and you’ve really got to take advantage of every chance you get.
“Every year you get into the playoffs,” Nyquist added, “you’ve really got to make it count.”
Nyquist has certainly grabbed hold of the opportunity he received this season. With 48 points in 55 games, Nyquist has grown into a dangerous player, if not an outright dominant one yet. Only veterans Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson have recorded more points for the Red Wings this season.
Whether Nyquist and fellow former Griffins like Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Luke Glendening and Tomas Jurco can continue to be as effective in the playoffs remains to be seen. Veteran Johan Franzen said that while experience never hurts, a lack of previous playoff time hardly renders a player useless.
“It probably depends what kind of player you are,” Franzen said. “Some guys even without the experience, they’re gamers and nothing gets to them … but for some players it could be a little intimidating, maybe, the first few games before you’re into it because it’s a lot higher pace and a lot more hitting. It’s a tight game out there, so it’s depending on what kind of player you are.”
In Franzen’s opinion, Detroit’s young players fall into the former category.
“Most of them been under the gun,” Franzen said. “We’ve been playing like we have to win for pretty much the last month, so they’ve been under the gun, and they’ve been doing a great job. I think we’ve got a good group of strong-minded guys in here.”
The Red Wings had to scrap hard just to reserve a playoff berth, and they have outlasted more talented and experienced teams, including at various times Boston and Pittsburgh, both of which lead their divisions and either of which Detroit could face in the first round. The young players of Detroit might not have NHL playoff experience, but the Red Wings have had to play with the same sort of win-or-the-season-ends desperation for weeks.
Those weeks have forged a stronger team, and the young players are no exception.
“Their confidence has grown as the season’s gone on,” Justin Abdelkader said. “They’ve gotten great opportunity to play, getting good ice time. They’ve taken it and grabbed it, and they’ve played really well. This game’s – it’s not an easy league to play in, and when things are going well, you want to keep them going well. These guys have done a good job of just coming here each day, working hard and doing what they can to help the team out.”
If the Red Wings make another unprecedented run this season, those young guys – especially Nyquist – will be a big part of the reason.