In 2014-15, Justin Abdelkader had his breakout season, the one that Detroit Red Wings fans had been hoping for. He notched 23 goals, scored 44 points and was utilized as an all-situations player while skating regular top-six minutes alongsideHenrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist.
Abdelkader didn’t slow down coming into this season, either. On opening night, the Detroit right winger notched a hat trick, and followed it up with a two-point performance in the second tilt of the season. And even though he hit a nine-game scoring drought, Abdelkader got himself back on the score sheet Tuesday with the primary assist on Dylan Larkin’s game-winning goal against Tampa Bay.
And now that he’s back on the score sheet, things are looking even better for Abdelkader. MLive.com’s Ansar Khan is reporting GM Ken Holland and the Red Wings are well on their way to locking up Abdelkader long-term.
Abdelkader entered the new campaign in the final year of a four-year, $7.2-million deal he signed with Detroit in September 2012. Khan reported the potential new contract, however, is “expected to be longer than four years” and could carry a cap hit around $4 million per season, which is a significant pay raise on the $1.8-million cap hit of Abdelkader’s current deal. Signing Abdelkader likely isn’t considered priority No. 1 for some Red Wings fans, but inking the 28-year-old to a long-term deal would be a great move by Holland and Co.
If Abdelkader is to make somewhere between $4 and $4.5 million annually, that would put his cap hit in the same range as players such as the Bruins’ Loui Eriksson, Islanders’ Nikolay Kulemin, Predators’ Craig Smith and Oilers’ Teddy Purcell. Abdelkader fits perfectly among that group and the Red Wings’ 2005 second-round pick, drafted 42nd overall, brings much more to the table than his ability to pick up a few points.
Though he’s not a top-unit penalty killer, he has become a great fill-in resource for coach Jeff Blashill when the Red Wings are down a man, but his real added value is on the power play.
Abdelkader has become Detroit’s newfound net-front presence with the extra man, filling the spot previously occupied by the retired Tomas Holmstrom. Abdelkader stands at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, so there’s an obvious reason the Red Wings like him in front so much. Holmstrom’s net-front ability was near-untouchable — he scored at least 10 power play goals in seven of his 13 full seasons with Detroit — but Abdelkader is learning the trade. In 2014-15, he managed eight tallies from Holmstrom’s former power play office.
Abdelkader’s ability to play the puck possession game is also underrated, likely in large part because some see him as more of a physical threat than a skillful puck possession player. However, over his past five seasons with Detroit, he has been a positive possession player each campaign. And in 2014-15 only two players who suited up for more than half the season, Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar, had a better shot attempts for percentage relative to the team.
Abdelkader may have had his troubles finding the score sheet this season, but he has maintained that puck possession ability that has made him such a valuable addition to the Red Wings’ top six. And while his shot attempts for percentage this season under Blashill is a dismal 47.5 percent, that’s still the 10th best among all Red Wings and when compared to teammates, he has maintained a positive shot attempts for percentage.
No one is going to confuse Abdelkader with the Zetterbergs or Datsyuks of the Red Wings, but he’s exactly the type of depth player Detroit has built a nearly quarter-century long playoff streak around. Abdelkader is cut from the same cloth as the Holmstroms and Drapers and Maltbys of the Red Wings — never the star, but always a notable name that can contribute. And when Detroit locks Abdelkader up, they’ll have another piece that can help them build towards yet another Stanley Cup.
(All advanced stats courtesy of Puckalytics.com)