Ahead of Thursday night’s pre-season tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks at Little Caesars Arena, the Detroit Red Wings received some good news on the injury front as the regular season creeps closer.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall has been practicing and is expected to be in the lineup on Thursday and perhaps again on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Head coach Jeff Blashill also reported that the team expects to have forward Justin Abdelkader, out the past 10 days with a groin issue, back in the lineup. Additionally, captain Henrik Zetterberg (neck) may be making his pre-season debut Friday at home against the Maple Leafs.
All three players have skated fully, including during special teams work.
“It was great,” Blashill said after practice. “I think the very first power-play practice up in Traverse City, we had the same (group) and then we haven’t been able to really have that group together until today. So we tried to take advantage of it. I think we spent a good 15-20, actually 20 minutes on it. You try to get a little PK work in as well but I thought both units looked good.
“There’s chemistry that was built a year ago that I think was in place today. But I also think even the other unit with Frky (Martin Frk) being on it, they seem to have chemistry developed real fast and (Frans) Nielsen’s been a great man in the middle so it looks like it could be a real good power play.”
Kronwall has been hampered by knee issues the past few years, and he was limited to only 57 games last season, the fewest he’s played in a non-lockout year since 2009-10. He scored two goals with 11 assists, a minus-7 plus/minus rating, and 32 penalty minutes. He currently has two years remaining at a cap hit of $4.75 million on his contract.
The once hard-hitting defenseman has seen his mobility reduced as injuries and age have caught up with him, and could have his ice time and special teams play reduced.
Meanwhile, Abdelkader is hoping for a bounce back year after only scoring seven goals and 21 points last year after back-to-back 40 point seasons. Just seven of his points came while Detroit had the man-advantage.
Blashill also said that he hopes that Michael Rasmussen, the team’s top pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, will play at least two more games before returning to the junior club, Tri-City (WHL) once the pre-season has ended.
“We’re keeping him to just give him a little more exposure at this level and to continue to put him in different situations so it gives you a better idea what you have as an organization,” Blashill said.
“He’s real big, he’s real coordinated, he’s smooth, he’s smart, both defensively and offensively. He’s got a good sense to him offensively. In the D-zone he’s so big that as a support player he kills lots of plays with his stick. He can skate up the ice. I think he’s been real good at both ends of the ice. Can he become that real hard to play against center that’s real good at both ends of the ice? That’s what he looks like right now.”