An array of injuries decimated the forwards of the Detroit Red Wings last year. These injuries forced Mike Babcock to fill his top six with 3rd/4th liners, inserting (pick your Grand Rapids Griffin Players) into the 3rd/4th lines to fill out the roster on any given night. One player, however, was seeing top six minutes prior to the profusion of injuries (seriously there are not enough adjectives for this ridiculous stretch of injuries).
Early in the 2013/2014 season Justin Abdelkader took the wing on the Henrik Zetterberg – Pavel Datsyuk line and was lauded for his “piano-moving” abilities. However, Abby’s production was objectively minimal, though personal career highs. Posting 10 goals and 18 assists in 70 games against top line competition, is nothing to scoff at, but it is also not the stat line a fan wants to see from a top line winger.
Abby is most noted for getting under the skin of opposing players and finishing his checks; but offensive production is not necessarily his forte. Abby is best suited as a 3rd/4th line abusing winger who can chip in every now and again offensively. His defensive abilities allow him to play against any of the opposing team’s lines, but a top line winger should also be adding consistent scoring. Think about this for a second, a 4th line of Drew Miller – Darren Helm – Justin Abdelkader.
That fourth line would cause absolute chaos on the ice and utter entertainment as a fan. Three defensively responsible, fast skaters capable of lining up against any team’s line could be the key to winning a couple extra games a year. With last change on home ice, Babs would be able to pair Miller/Helm/Abby against say Sidney Crosby, allowing the Datysuks and Zetterbergs of the team to face lesser competition on occasion.
Justin Abdelkader might be best suited for 3rd/4th line duties, but with praise coming from both Pavel Datsyuk and Mike Babcock, we will most likely see glimpses of Abby on the top line. While a more potent scorer such as Tomas Jurco or Gustav Nyquist, or dare I even suggest Anthony Mantha, deserve tryouts in the top spot, if the Wings get stagnant and the Babcock’s line blender hits full throttle, expect Justin Abdelkader to get his fair share of top six minutes.