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Is Justin Abdelkader A Top-Six Forward For The Detroit Red Wings?

from Ansar Khan of Mlive,

2014-15 outlook: Abdelkader likely will start the season on the top line with Pavel Datsyuk and possibly Henrik Zetterberg. Coach Mike Babcock likes having a "heavy body" on each line, someone to provide a physical presence, go to the net and retrieve pucks. Abdelkader has filled this role for Datsyuk much of the past two seasons as the guy who "pulls the piano." It hasn't translated into an offensive boost but the club has been satisfied with the results. Abdelkader should continue playing a net-front role on the power play, especially since Todd Bertuzzi is gone. His role on the penalty kill has diminished the past two seasons (from 1:25 short-handed time per game in 2011-12 to 38 seconds last season), in part due to more power-play time, but he'll continue to see some PK duty. Abdelkader brings a different dimension for a team that has a lot of smaller forwards. He provides a much-needed abrasive element and has the ability to agitate and get under opponents' skin. This is a team that needs to be harder to play against. Abdelkader made strides in reducing bad penalties, something that plagued him earlier in his career. A good skater who plays with pace, he has settled in as a winger but can play center if needed.

Key question: Should Abdelkader continue playing on a top-two line or should he be playing on a checking line?


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gowings's avatar

Well…...as long as you don’t put Cleary instead…...

Posted by gowings from MTL on 08/10/14 at 09:09 AM ET

bigdee89's avatar

I like Abby but what we really need is a power forward not a grinder on the top line.

Posted by bigdee89 from The Great White North Eh? on 08/10/14 at 10:24 AM ET


Abdelkader is not good enough to play the role he’s playing on the top line, and if Jurco or Sheahan could bring enough physicality to convince Babcock of the same the team would instantly improve.

Posted by captaineclectic on 08/10/14 at 10:53 AM ET


Put Jurco on the top line, Abdelkader on the fourth.

Zetterberg Datsyuk Jurco
Franzen Weiss Nyquist
Tatar Sheahan Alfredsson/Pulkkinen/Mantha
Miller Helm Abdelkader

I like that lineup.

Posted by Dont Toews Me Bro on 08/10/14 at 11:00 AM ET

Gumby's avatar

I’m curious to see how a line of Mantha, Pulkkinen and Datsyuk could develop.  I understand that you would have two unproven rookies skating with a world class center, but those wingers are pure snipers; if they adjusted to the NHL and gelled with Datsyuk, that could be a difficult line to defend.

Posted by Gumby from the city with more ruins than Rome on 08/10/14 at 11:34 AM ET



Posted by brians neck on 08/10/14 at 11:39 AM ET

Primis's avatar

In an ideal situation, Abdelkader could maybe be a second line guy in the “Piano Mover” role.  I don’t know that I like him on the top line necessarily though.  Not when you look around the league and see other top lines…

Posted by Primis on 08/10/14 at 11:47 AM ET

WingedRider's avatar

I say no. Big but not a real Power Forward. Bottom 6 for me

Posted by WingedRider from Saskatoon, SK on 08/10/14 at 12:46 PM ET


I just see no indication how Abby helps Pavel and Z. I understand Bab’s desire to have his “Bickel/Towes” combo, but Abby is not that big, does not win enough puck battles, not that good at retrieving the puck, not so good in screening. He obviously cannot shoot or pass.
As one poster said on the other site, he is not carrying the piano, he IS the piano.
Jurco is a much better choice as he can bring the same physical presence plus good hands.
Too bad Jurco will start the season in GR because KH always chooses the pass of least resistance.
If not Jurco, I will play Alfy there. He has great chemistry with Dats and the way they can pass the puck, they just can keep it the whole shift.

Posted by VPalmer on 08/10/14 at 06:19 PM ET


Not even close. He simply doesn’t have any reasonable amount of skill to be a top 6 forward. I would look for Mantha to bump him from the line up.

Posted by teldar on 08/10/14 at 06:51 PM ET

MoreShoot's avatar

depressing even to be asking this question.

Posted by MoreShoot on 08/10/14 at 07:04 PM ET

Hippy Dave's avatar

Depends on the matchup.  But I agree most of the time we need either Nyquist or a power forward in that role.  It is fun to see Abby take the head off an unsuspecting top line forward from time to time.  Keeps ‘em honest.

Posted by Hippy Dave from Portland by way of Detroit on 08/10/14 at 07:19 PM ET

RWBill's avatar

Well…...as long as you don’t put Cleary instead…...

Posted by gowings from MTL on 08/10/14 at 09:09 AM ET

Yes he is, but there is the rub.  You can’t weight down the team.

Lacking what older Wings teams had, 9 scoring forwards, Abdelkader will stay up top.  Many fans are box score analysts.  Abdelkader contributes a lot more than crooked numbers.  I have several pics of plays last year where he was decoying and drawing defenseman with him to the side of the net to clear a wide open slot for <Datsyuk> <others> including the game winner vs Caps and others.  Those didn’t show up in the box score next to his name, but next to someone else’s.

I wish Franzen would play with Abby’s positioning, moxie and effort.

If we get some high scoring combo’s that are effective at the NHL level in the near future I’m all for him going to third and fourth line and STs.

Posted by RWBill on 08/10/14 at 09:06 PM ET

RocketSurgeon's avatar

First off .. it is the path of least resistance, not pass. Although with a Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Abdelkader line maybe it should be “pass’ because you have two passers and a piano .. no scorers. That line needs a shooter .. Pav and Z are set up men but not shooters. With both of them on the same line you get great skating and stick work but no one to finish. Abby is not a good fit because he is not a scorer. The line needs someone who can finish the play.

Posted by RocketSurgeon on 08/10/14 at 09:30 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I would suggest that if Babcock were a little less stubborn, Abdelkader would get less time as a “piano-puller.” I get the whole line-must-balance-between-passer-shooter-and-space-maker concept, but Abdelkader still goes to the front of the net and stays there rather inconsistently, but is still prone to taking a dumb retaliatory penalty pretty dang regularly.

He’s probably going to start the season as the piano-puller, but when he gets the position he tends not to keep earning it, and that’s what bugs me about simply awarding him the job (I respect the hell out of Babcock, but his insistence upon having a dedicated fourth-line “natural center” [see: Cory Emmerton and Luke Glendening in the lineup over a Jurco or Nyquist on occasion] and a dedicated big, “heavy” winger playing “piano-puller” aggravates me).

I’m with you guys—I’d prefer to see either a dedicated sniper placed on the line or someone else be given the chance to emulate Tomas Holmstrom (Sheahan? Jurco? Callahan?), but I’m still expecting to see #8 on the line to start the year.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 08/10/14 at 09:47 PM ET


So who was the “shooter” on the line in 2008 when it was the best line in hockey—Tomas Holmstrom?  No, it was Z, and he had a career year. 

The truth is that Z is a shooter, as his multiple 250+ shot seasons attest.  Z is also an excellent shot, but he does change his game when he’s on Datsyuk’s wing versus when he’s centering a line.  As a center he takes on more of a distributor’s role and plays further back to cover defensively—he also doesn’t have the benefit of Datsyuk’s seeing-eye passes.

No, what that line needs is a powerful board presence that also goes to the net and generates offense there. Abdelkader has some of that but not enough to be a difference maker.  Jurco seems to have more upside.  Sheahan seems to have more upside.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Mantha got there too, but he won’t be there this season—this season, if he’s in the NHL, he’s going to be too much of a perimeter guy.

Posted by captaineclectic on 08/10/14 at 09:50 PM ET

MoreShoot's avatar

Why not a piano puller that can also handle the puck. Even if he’s glow in the dark green, I bet Mantha could handle the job better. But less green and still more able are Jurco or Sheahan, especially if Weiss asserts himself as the center they expected and Helm returns to form captaining the third line, Sheahan might be available to play a little power forward.

Posted by MoreShoot on 08/10/14 at 09:53 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I dunno, from what I’ve seen of Mantha, he’ll go to the net, but he prefers to either skate in on the net on the rush or lurk as a sniper instead of a net-front guy. He’s at his strongest as a sniper.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 08/10/14 at 10:08 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Also: Hey all *waves* I’m still pretty bloody dippy, but as soon as I can sit up and write, I’ve got the bare bones of a catch-up post (not substantial but a bunch of small stuff) set up. Right now I’m just too tired—I packed the car, I unpacked the car, and in the middle, I drove all 400 miles home. Mom’s legs were swelling so I needed to give her a hand (same story on the way up; she didn’t drive a mile in Grand Marais, either), but I’m a bit pooped.

I missed you guys, even Garth.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 08/10/14 at 10:10 PM ET

awould's avatar

Right now I’m just too tired—I packed the car, I unpacked the car, and in the middle, I drove all 400 miles home. Mom’s legs were swelling so I needed to give her a hand (same story on the way up; she didn’t drive a mile in Grand Marais, either), but I’m a bit pooped.

I hear ya, George. I’m moving my family up the street about 5 miles. Been packing, loading, driving, unpacking for 3 straight 10-12 hour days now. My knee is held together by fluid I think. Movers show up tomorrow for the big stuff, feels like a day off.

Looking forward to getting really settled into my new house just in time for the hockey action to start. This summer doldrums is old.

Posted by awould on 08/10/14 at 11:35 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

OOF. My uncle explained to me why Daniel Cleary had a bad reaction to that Synvisc stuff as it’s simultaneously injected into *both sides* of your knee at the same time for three weeks, to the point that the needles touch inside your knee…But he swears by it, says that if your knee’s *#$%@& up, it works fantastically well.

Things haven’t been quiet per se, but I’ve got at least fifty “small things” to catch up on.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 08/10/14 at 11:44 PM ET


I didn’t mean to question Mantha’s willingness to go to the net, I’m just predicting that if he’s in the NHL this season he’s going to have an adjustment period before he’s a force down low and on the boards.  He’s still somewhat skinny and he’s never played against NHL caliber defensemen. 

That won’t matter on the rush or on one-timers, or even cycling the puck on the power play, but it will matter in other parts of the game—at first.

By the way if I’m wrong about this we will have a tremendous season, because Mantha will get a shot and if he can bring “heavy” play on the puck along with his skill Babcock will fall in love with him.  He isn’t Tatar or Hudler, he doesn’t have the baggage of being a little dude to overcome in Babcock’s eyes.

Posted by captaineclectic on 08/11/14 at 04:20 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

Abdelkader has played the role before, and he played it well. That said, I don’t think you can call him “a top six forward” with no asterisk or further discussion. I think Abby’s best position is to be the successor to what Dan Cleary did so well for the Wings before his knees were totaled—Abby can be the jack-of-all-trades guy. You can play him on the top line when you need puck retrieval, a net-front presence, or just an energy boost. You can play him on the third or fourth line when he needs a reset, or when the younger guys need a veteran alongside them. He can specialize net-front on the PP even if he doesn’t take top six shifts at ES. He can kill some penalties.

So, sure. I don’t mind seeing Abby play significant minutes on the top line, but I think he’s best reserved for a little of everything given that he’s pretty good at a lot of things, but not a top player at any one specific. This “good at everything/great at nothing” is why Dan Cleary used to be so valuable and why we all liked him for so long. This is a natural transition from Cleary’s role to someone younger and more capable of filling it going forward.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 08/11/14 at 09:56 AM ET

Jaromir Blogger's avatar

Abdelkader has some hockey smarts and I agree with RWBill’s observations. He has his moments, but I do not think the Top 6 is a good place for him. Given that he does have a bit of upside though, I think it makes the fourth line an even better spot for him, because he can create some offense from time to time even in a checking role.

Posted by Jaromir Blogger on 08/11/14 at 03:51 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.