As most of you know, I'm very unapologetic and critical of any player, coach, or team. This doesn't fall short with the Red Wings, or any of their players. That's how I was raised, that's how my old man was. Call me negative, I'll call it just being a fan who expects the best out of his favorite squadron of hockey players. What makes us different as fans comes down to one simple thing: Perception. How do we perceive certain players? Some people think Jimmy Howard isn't a goalie you can win a Stanley Cup with. I think those people are idiots. Some people think Alex Ovechkin is a bad hockey player because ????.. I also think those people are idiots.
For the past two seasons, I have been increasingly critical of Detroit left-winger Justin Abdelkader. Why? Various reasons.. Streakiness, grit-factor, stupid penalties, being "overrated" by certain people.. Some stupid suspension stuff. Pretty valid reasons in my eyes. I've always thought the kid was a serviceable bottom-six winger, and nothing more. Get mad at me, but that was my opinion.
Today, my friends.. I come with you bearing a gift. Something you won't see me do too often. Today, I will admit.. I think I was wrong about Justin Abdelkader. Sure, I'm basing this off of a sample size of 20 games.. But I called it in Training Camp this summer. He's a different kind of player these days. He's faster, he's smarter, he drives possession, and most important: He is making the players around him better. And no, this isn't a product of Pavel Datsyuk whipping pucks at him and them bouncing off his ass and into the net. Don't believe me? Well let's have a look at some fun things! Weee!
First example: The OT winner against Pittsburgh. If you watch the gif below, Abby creates this entire play. He drives the puck deep, and Henrik Zetterberg chases the rebound created by Brendan Smith, Paul Martin turns the puck over to right in front of the net, and Abby cuts in and takes it from there. Such a gorgeous play, and masterful breakout. NOTE: Hover over the gif if it isn't moving for you.
Next example I will use is Abdelkader's net-front presence. He's done it a couple of times this season. It's a simple concept that we all know about here in Detroit. Tomas Holmstrom pioneered this, and it's always been a much welcomed style of play here in Hockeytown. Aside from when it gets waved off, because you know. First example, from the Winnipeg game. Tomas Tatar does a great job at keeping the puck in by handing it off to Brian Lashoff, he doesn't hesitate and whips the puck at the net, where Abby is standing right in front of Ondrej Pavelec. To be honest, I was surprised they didn't wave this off.. But I'm glad they didn't because it was bad ass.
I'm So Fancy.. But You Already Know!
Let's break just for a moment to commend Abdelkader for his fancy maths. Abby has been quite the surprise in the analytical aspect of the game. So far, he's sitting at 58% CorsiFor at 5v5 score close, which is good enough to put him in the top-five of all Detroit players for possession when the game matters most, and he hasn't been sheltered at all. He's played against a high quality of competition He's been sharing around the same corsi competition% to that of Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, and considerably higher than Gustav Nyquist. Of all players with more than 10 GP, Abby has the highest relative corsi. Relative corsi is a simple way of measuring how a player is at driving possession compared to his teammates. Abby's relative corsi is 9%, Zetterberg's is 4.9%.. Important to note that he is starting about 5% of his shifts in the offensive zone relative to his teammates. Here's a look at at Detroit players Corsi% so far this season, data provided by war-on-ice.. Again, this data is at 5v5 score close:
So, not many of you are stats nerds, and that's okay! Maybe you like to watch the games. Boy do I hate doing that. Pffffff. Let's have a look at some more great plays this guy has made..
This next play is just downright fantastic. Detroit is pressing in Washington's zone, Andre Bruakovsky makes an attempt to sweep the puck and get it out of the zone (??), Abby makes a smart play to press in and get is stick in the way.. This breaks Burakovsky's possession, and Abby is right there to take the free puck and bury the biscuit in the basket. Such a simple, yet Justin shows an elite-level of awareness. This was probably Abdelkader's best game of the season.
This one is great. Not so much an amazing play by Abby as it is Euro-Twin magic, but his awareness of Pavel's drop-pass, and his shot really impress me. Watching Pavel dribble the puck with his feet gives me the willies. Oh got damn.
Simplicity rules sometimes. This play we see the Capitals get caught with their pants down after a turnover. Abby grabs the puck, and feeds it to Goose like he already knew he would be there. It was a ridiculously smart play, and a gorgeous goal by Goose.
What is to be Expected of Justin Abdelkader Going Forward?
Abby has shown us steady progression, year-after-year thus far. Each year he scores more points, and starts doing better things. I'm not saying this guy is an all-star, but I am saying that he is a damn good top-six power forward. He's entering his prime now, and is currently on pace for 60 points this season.. While I don't know if he can sustain this pace, I am pretty confident that he's going keep pushing, and keep playing better hockey.
Wait, Isn't He Only Good Because of Datsyuk?
Any player is better because of Pavel Datsyuk. Period. However, lately he has been skating with Gustav Nyquist and I have absolutely loved that line. There is no doubt in my mind that playing with Pavel has taught Justin Abdelkader a lot about how to take it to the next level on both ends of the ice.
Justin Abdelkader is on a mission. He's turning into a fantastic player right before our eyes, and I am happy to be wrong about him. Like I said before, I've thrown flak at him for a few years now and he's stepping it up. He's showing that his ceiling is much higher than some of us expected. If he can keep this pace, and stay away from silly penalties, I am happy to call this guy a top-six player. Proud of you, Abby. Good Michigan boy. Sparty on.