DETROIT – From the start of training camp, Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has continued to preach the same thing to his players, wanting them to step up and grab their chunk of cheese.
That message is both for the youth and veterans inside the locker room.
“We talk about it every day, there’s opportunity,” Babcock said. “There’s opportunity for everyone not just the young guys. They decide. I tell them this all the time, they don’t believe me, I don’t decide who plays, they decide who plays. I just watch.”
Three of the young players have stepped up – Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson – at a crucial time with a number of the stars on the roster sidelined with various injuries.
Detroit has played without Pavel Datsyuk (concussion) the last seven games, Henrik Zetterberg (small herniated disc) the last three and Darren Helm (shoulder) the last two.
During that stretch Tatar has four goals and three assists and Nyquist has scored twice and had three assists. Andersson, who’s been strong in the faceoff circle, has a goal and three assists.
“They’re good players,” Babcock said. “They can skate and they work and know how to play. So that’s what’s supposed to happen on our team. Young guys are supposed to come in eventually and take their jobs and that’s the process they’re in.”
The Wings are 5-2-0 over their last seven games.
When the season began, Tatar struggled to remain in the lineup, appearing in just one of the Wings’ first nine games of the season. Tatar has since played the last 22 games in a row.
Tatar is sixth on the team in scoring with six goals and seven assists.
Nyquist began the season in Grand Rapids because Detroit simply had too many forwards on its roster when training camp broke and he could be assigned to the minors without having to clear waivers.
When Nyquist was recalled because of injuries he scored two goals in his first game.
“Too bad Gus couldn’t stay (out of training camp), there wasn’t room for him on the roster,” Johan Franzen said. “But everyone knew he could play, definitely good enough to have a spot. He’s playing with great confidence and speed, him and Tats both.”
In just nine games, Nyquist has four goals and three assists.
The Wings got a good look at what the young players could offer last season.
“We kind of got better and better as last year went on and in the postseason the young guys really took another step and played well,” Zetterberg said. “When we have a few injuries on the veteran guys here, guys get the opportunity to play more and they’ve been doing well.
“I think Tatar and Gus are creating stuff almost all the time they’re out on the ice,” Zetterberg continued. “I think our defense is getting better, getting more comfortable playing more minutes. Obviously you don’t want to see injuries but at the same time it’s how you get through it, how you play through that as a team and sometimes it will make teams stronger.”
Datsyuk is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday in Florida, while Zetterberg is out at least one more week and Helm is day-to-day.