DETROIT – Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock may have found a way to keep Johan Franzen engaged throughout a whole game … by having him center a forward line.
“I just want Mule to be dominant,” Babcock said. “I think Mule is the X-Factor on this team. He’s big, he’s a good player, if we can (just) get him going at the highest possible level.”
Babcock had Franzen center the Wings’ second line Friday night against Colorado with Valtteri Filppula and Gustav Nyquist as his wingers.
“We said to him grab a line and take it,” Babcock said. “With Fil, (he) gives him real good speed, and Gus makes good plays. I thought they were good (Friday).”
Franzen was drafted by the Wings as a center, but because of their depth through the middle he’s played pretty much solely on wing since he joined the team for the 2005-06 season.
He seemed to like his new role.
“It was fun,” Franzen said. “(You’re a) little bit more involved in the game, got some more pucks, a lot more skating, so it was fun.
“Usually when you’re playing the wing you have a designated spot, you know where you’re going to be, you’re on your wing pretty much every time you go back and forth up and down, and you don’t leave that,” Franzen added. “As a center you can use your, what do you call it … a little more freedom, you try to find openings and you go there. It’s a lot more skating and less stopping.”
The Wings are hoping this move pays off and makes Franzen a more consistent player that they’re looking for.
Franzen won 8-of-13 faceoffs, had one assist, one takeaway and four hits on Friday.
“That’s definitely a good thing, it would be bad if he didn’t think I was one,” Franzen said when he heard Babcock called him an X-Factor on the team. “I’m happy about that. I’m trying as hard as I can. It’s something new and get a little boost maybe.”
The move also allowed Babcock to rejoin Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk together, playing on a line with Justin Abdelkader.
“I just thought the energy level of our group wasn’t great (Thursday) night,” Babcock said. “I just thought this would give us some energy. I thought it did. Everyone’s talking about Pav and Z, but I thought Mule was fantastic in the middle, dominated the faceoff circle, really played well, went head-to-head against (Matt) Duchene all night long and was very good.”