If you’ve been paying attention to the Detroit Red Wings over the last month, you’ve heard of Gustav Nyquist. The 2008 4th round draft pick is truly something to be excited about. Perhaps the most promising Red Wings forward prospect since Johan Franzen, Nyquist was called up from Detroit’s AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins near the beginning of March to help fill the many gaping holes injuries were leaving in their lineup (this is in addition to playing 5 games earlier in the season). Now Nyquist has begun to make a name for himself in Detroit, something that doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Nyquist has been generating plenty of buzz since his college days. In his 3 seasons with the University of Maine, Nyquist put up 144 points in 113 games and earned 2 Hobey Baker finalist nods. Clearly capable of playing at a much higher level than NCAA hockey, Nyquist made the decision to forgo his final year with the Black Bears and join the Griffins for 2011-12. The 22-year-old Swede didn’t miss a beat after his graduation to the AHL. In 56 games Nyquist has 58 points. That point total places him 1st on the Griffins, 12th in the league, and 3rd amongst rookies in scoring this season.
Those sensational totals earned Nyquist his current role on the top line in Detroit alongside Pavel Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi, and his level of play and chemistry with the 2 has kept him there. In his 7 games in March, Nyquist has 1 goal and 5 assists-one of the hottest performances on the team-but now that the final few injured Wings are becoming healthy, will Nyquist retain his spot?
The top line spot #14 currently fills has been Johan Franzen’s all season long. Upon his return is that spot still Gustav’s? What about when both The Mule and Darren Helm have returned, does Nyquist have a place in the Red Wings lineup at all? It’s tough to say.
In the most recent episode of Winging It In Motown Radio, the guys spent some time discussing just this. The general consensus reached was that Nyquist should retain his role and Bertuzzi should be the odd man out on the top line, Cory Emmerton & Jan Mursak the ones to lose their lineup spot once everyone is healthy. I happen to be in complete agreement.
The problem with bumping Nyquist down to the 3rd line (assuming the unbelievable chemistry that the Zetterberg-Filppula-Hudler line has had makes them untouchable) is the style of play that line is expected to produce. They’re grinders, penalty killers, and see far less ice time than the top 6 forwards on most nights. While still fully capable of producing offensively, it’s a different style of gameplay than what Nyquist appears to be built for. His clear developing chemistry with Datsyuk (who could probably create chemistry with anyone) is worth riding for the rest of the season. And about the odd men out?
Todd Bertuzzi is capable of playing a similar style to that of the 3rd line, while giving it a twinge of creativity and scoring touch.
I don’t believe Cory Emmerton has a place on this team. If it weren’t for Patrick Eaves’ concussion, he wouldn’t be on this team, and while he hasn’t performed poorly, he’s done nothing spectacular to separate himself from the bounty of grinders Detroit currently finds themselves with.
Jan Mursak finds himself in s similar situation to Emmerton, but with the upside of his speed. He’s a less experienced Darren Helm. Valuable, but not necessary to the lineup at this time.
The question is, will Detroit see it the same way? If Mike Babcock feels more comfortable with his lineup pre-injury fiasco, possibly not. After all the team is notorious for “over-ripening” their prospects in the AHL before bringing them to the big league. Not to mention the Griffins, who are currently in a fight for their playoff lives, could use their leading scorer.
Yet with certain talent the Wings haven’t hesitated to bring players through in an expedited process. Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Franzen never spent time in the AHL, and Valtteri Filppula was there for just a season. Those 4 players are currently the top 4 on the team in points. Does the organization feel that Nyquist could develop into the same caliber player? We’ll likely know soon enough-Franzen could be back as early as Wednesday.