Abdelkader looking to rebound with more challenges than usual
“I still think I have a lot of game in me,” Justin Abdelkader said. “As long as you’re healthy, and I’m healthy, I still have a lot to give and play in this league.”
The 2019-20 season could be Justin Abdelkader’s last stand as a Red Wing.
The 32-year-old native of Muskegon has long been derided by fans and media members for his seven-year contract worth $29.75 million ($4.25 million average annual value and cap hit), which still has four seasons remaining. He’s also coming off his worst NHL season by far.
The Michigan State alum managed only six goals and 19 points and was minus 14 in 71 games during the 2018-19 campaign. At one point he went 40 games without scoring a goal.
“It was frustrating, just frustrating for sure,” Abdelkader
told the Detroit News on Tuesday at the Spartan Pro Camp at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing. “In this league, there are nights you can go out and feel good about how you played and you’ve had (offensive) chances, but if you’re not contributing offensively and you don’t have those points and continue to look and have zeroes on the scorecard that build up … your confidence can take a hit.”
In an effort to fuel a bounce-back this season, Abdelkader was on the ice a month or so earlier than usual this summer and has been concentrating on skill work going into next month’s training camp in Traverse City.
“You constantly, consistently have to prove yourself in this league; it’s an every-day league,” he said. “When you have a down year by your standards, or by whatever standards, you make sure to refocus that much more.
“I still think I have a lot of game in me. As long as you’re healthy, and I’m healthy, I still have a lot to give and play in this league.
“I still think I can contribute and be a player that this team can count on.”
The Red Wings have several talented young forwards who will be competing for roster spots at training camp like Filip Zadina, Taro Hirose, Michael Rasmussen and Joe Veleno.
Then there’s big, rugged, 24-year-old bottom-six forward Adam Erne, acquired by Detroit from GM Steve Yzerman’s old team the Tampa Bay Lightning recently. He fills the same role that Abdelkader does for a lot less money (Erne was a restricted free agent whom the Wings immediately signed to a one-year deal worth $ 1.05 million).
That all makes Abdelkader’s situation even more challenging.
“I’ve played a bunch of different roles over the last number of years,” Abdelkader said. “For me, I have to be prepared for anything, and try to find ways to contribute and that’s what my focus is — to be a player who can lead these young guys and help us try to get the best out of each other.”
Abdelkader’s body type (6-2, 214) is even working against him these days.
Size and strength were emphasized during his first full season 10 years ago. But things have changed.
“When I came out of (exit) meetings, it was about getting bigger and stronger and I was spending more time in the weight room,” Abdelkader said. “Now you see some of the best players in the league, like Mitch Marner and Johnny Gaudreau, they’re very skilled and they’re not big and can’t throw a lot of weight around, but they’re skilled, and it’s the skating, and it’s just how fluid the game is these days.
“So, it’s just about working on those parts of the game.”
He has not talked to Yzerman or coach Jeff Blashill at length during the summer but expects to before training camp.
“I just have to be ready for whatever role I will be put in,” he said, “and then making sure I can contribute that way.”