Red Wings Player Grades: Justin Abdelkader, Joakim Andersson, Dan Cleary, Drew Miller
Today we'll look at what we called the bottom six wingers in the season preview post. With the way the season went, we snuck a top-sixer in there and we're also covering the very bottom forward on the depth chart. Let's get to it:
#17 / Right Wing / Detroit Red Wings
Dec 18, 1978
Preview Recap: No player was as polarizing for the Red Wings during last year's preseason than Dan Cleary. The promise he was given that led to his one-year bonus-laden deal didn't sit well with many fans who saw him unable to perform consistently. As such, we didn't really put expectations on him for this season, which turned out to be a good idea.
Season Recap: Cleary played 17 games, notching two points. He got his million-dollar bonus and sat in the press box for a majority of the season. The most entertaining thing Cleary did all year was take his number 11 back the very day that Daniel Alfredsson held his press conference to announce he was retiring as an Ottawa Senator. Even adjusting for no expectations, this was essentially a stagnation at the forward spot for Detroit.
Final Grade: F
#8 / Forward / Detroit Red Wings
Feb 25, 1987
Preview Recap: Going into this season, expectations on Abdelkader were that he would continue to play his high-energy forechecking game to wear down opponents and make space for his teammates. I did say expect a career high in goals for him, but since his previous high mark was 10, the expectations were somewhat middling.
Season Recap: In 71 games, Abdelkader more than doubled his previous career high in goal output, putting up 23 and really showing that he had taken a step forward in his game. The knock on Abby was his consistent inability to finish good scoring plays. This season he showed a knack for just the opposite. His shooting percentage jumped up to about 15%, but for a guy who got as many breakaway chances as he did, this wasn't entirely about the luck of the draw shooting-wise.
Outside of the goal-scoring prowess, Abdelkader continued to play as a very good first forechecker/board-battler who drew more penalties than he took. I think the biggest surprise about his game was how well Abdelkader worked as a transition forward for the Wings. Pass collection is an often-overlooked talent in the NHL, but Abdelkader had a knack for taking outlets in stride without losing speed through the neutral zone. This really helped Detroit's transition game.
Final Grade: A
#20 / Left Wing / Detroit Red Wings
Feb 17, 1984
Preview Recap: Miller earned his spot in the lineup with hard work over the last five years and was again expected to anchor the Detroit penalty kill. Hilariously, I gave him a built-in excuse for not scoring more by pointing out how much time he'd spend with Luke Glendening.
Season Recap: Five goals and 13 points is fairly low, even for a defensive forward standards, but in fairness, he did have a goal stolen by one of the worst penalty calls in the NHL this season. He also had the disadvantage of having two defensive zone stars for every one he got near the opponent's net. Second only to Glendening in shorthanded ice time among forwards, Miller turned in another solid season playing shorthanded.
In terms of expectations, Drew Miller met his. You'd like to see him score more, but Miller's usage this season was essentially offensively sacrificial. He remains the kind of forward with an uncanny sense for getting into shooting lanes without screening his own goalie, even at greater distances from his mark (which is impressively difficult without a crease for reference). He's also still kind of a skinny forward who plays like a bigger one. If Miller could forecheck half as well as he backchecks, he'd be the perfect 4th liner.
Final Grade: B-
#18/ Center / Detroit Red Wings
Feb 5, 1989
Preview Recap: There weren't great expectations on Andersson going into this season. In fact, I said he seemed like essentially the next Cory Emmerton, which isn't a ringing endorsement. Last summer, we argued over Andersson versus Glendening with the knowledge that Glenny was already favored by Babcock. Nobody thought Joker would put up much.
Season Recap: True to form, Andersson started and stayed behind Glendening on the depth chart all season, losing his center position and drawing into 68 games. In that time, he put up a whopping eight points. If Miller's offensive output was disappointing, Andersson's was all set to make you think he has a personal vendetta against helping his own team put the puck into the opponent's net. Sure, he's got the same "defensive forward" usage profile as his other fourth line brethren, but you're really only supposed to prevent goals when the other team has the puck.
When Andersson did play, he did a fine defensive job as a 2nd-tier penalty killer. He showed up with effort every night and took the sub-40% zone starts deployment well, but He wasn't particularly memorable nor effective.
Final Grade: C-