The start of a beautiful relationship?
We continue our series of looking at how the Wing players will fare this season. We've finished the defense and the goalies, and Jeff began our look at the forwards by previewing 2 rookies who could have an impact on the Wings this season, Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton.
Today, we're going to continue up the depth chart and take a look at 2 players that are still trying to have their definitive roles on the team defined. They are both MSU grads, with one of them coming from a long line of Spartans, while the other scored a pretty significant goal in school history. One was a Wing draft pick and the other a waiver wire pick up during the Injury Plague of 2009-10. Today we preview Justin Abdelkader and Drew Miller.
Last Year's Benchmark: The bar was not set that high for either player entering 2010-11, as they were still fourth-line players who were trying to earn their spot in the lineup while competing with other forwards for playing time. Drew Miller found himself on the 13th forward carousel, especially once Kris Draper returned from injury. He finished the season playing in 67 games, scoring 18 points including tying his career-high in goals with 10. Abdelkader played more games than Miller, and he responded to the increased playing time with career-highs in goals (7), assists (12) and points (19), while finishing with a +15 rating.
|2010 - Drew Miller||10||8||18||-2||13|
With Kris Draper on the shelf early last season, Drew Miller was given a regular spot in the lineup and was a solid fixture on the fourth line and the penalty kill. Unfortunately, for some reason he could not escape the Leino Lounge once Draper returned, and he found himself losing ice time. When he was in the lineup, he was effective in his limited minutes, and the running joke was that scratching Miller meant that the next game he played in would result in a goal. He ended the season on a (relative) tear, scoring 6 goals in his final 13 games. He was held pointless in 5 games against the Sharks. In the offseason, he signed a 2-year contract with the Wings.
Strengths: Miller is an extremely under-rated defensive forward and penalty killer. He averaged over 2 minutes a game on the penalty kill, and was the leading shot-blocker on the Wings among forwards with 58. He's got more of an offensive upside than people think, because scoring 10 goals while only playing 12-14 minutes a game is not that easy to do. He's one of the hardest working players on the team and never takes a shift off.
Weaknesses: Despite scoring 10 goals last season, he will never ascend to a top-6 forward spot based on his offensive talent. He's scored 2 goals in a game once in his career. He's a bigger body, but does not play an overly physical game. He'll throw his body around, but he's not going to overpower anyone.
Expectations: The 2-year contract is a strong signal that the Wings believe Miller is an integral part of the team. I would expect similar numbers to last year (with a possible dip in offensive production), but his role on the team is as a depth forward who can eat up some tough minutes and contribute on the penalty kill. If he can stay in the lineup, expect 5-10 goals and 10-20 points, but we'd like to see that +/- finish in the positive given his role.
|2010 - Justin Abdelkader||7||12||19||15||61|
Justin Abdelkader is probably best known by Wing fans for scoring goals in Games 1 and 2 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals against the Penguins, and by MSU fans for his "golden goal" in the 2008 Frozen Four Final against Boston College. Last year was his second full season in the NHL, but the first in which he played more than 50 games. He responded by kicking in some offense while being arguably the most physical Wing forward throughout the regular season.
Strengths: He is not afraid to use his body, leading the team in hits (188) and fighting majors (3) last season. He's an energy player who can get the crowd into the game with a big hit or a strong shift. He's a stronger skater than most people realize, and at 24, he's still got a lot of upside to all aspects of his game. He's developed a good defensive game and can eat up minutes. He's becoming used more in penalty kill situations, averaging 1:42 per game in PK time. Despite his young age, he's got a lot of playoff experience that translates well in the postseason, and is not a wide-eyed rookie when the games truly matter.
Weaknesses: Abby still is looking to develop the offensive side of his game. Despite career-highs in goals and points last season, he was extremely inconsistent offensively, going very long stretches between scoring. In the playoffs, he showed a disturbing habit of taking a very ill-advised penalty late in games, putting the Wings in situations where they were trying to maintain a lead while giving the other team good chances to score. He's still got some maturing to do as a player, and needs to learn how to harness his energy and physicality to benefit the team.
Expectations: With the retirement of Kris Draper, Abdelkader could see an increased role as a depth forward, possibly being put on a line with Patrick Eaves and Darren Helm to form Grind Line 2.0. Abby has the versatility to play both center and wing, so he's won't be pigeon-holed into one role or on one specific line. His ice time should increase this season, and 10 goals/20-25 points should not be out of the question. This isn't a make-or-break season for Abdelkader, but he'll be a RFA after this season, so he'll be looking to show the team that he deserves a raise.
We're back on Monday as we continue up the proverbial food chain. Up next, J.J. will be previewing 2 of the more popular players on the team, including the man known to certain Brazilian bloggers simply as "God".