Gustav Nyquist (Getty Images)
Gustav Nyquist was a big reason why the Detroit Red Wings were able to salvage their season in 2013-14 and he hasn't disappointed early, scoring three goals in the team's first three games. This should come as no surprise the way the Wings develop players.
If Gustav Nyquist hadn’t known that he arrived as an NHLer last year, he certainly does now. After all, it takes Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and awful lot to admit he screwed up and Nyquist made him do that.
Babcock has been giving himself a public flogging since Wednesday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins. The Red Wings got a 4-on-3 power play with 41 seconds remaining in overtime and Babcock went with Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Riley Sheahan up front and Nicklas Kronwall on defense. In doing so, he left Nyquist on the bench cooling his heels, despite the fact he tied the game with a power-play goal in the third period.
“I don’t need good analytics to know that Nyquist has three goals,” Babcock said. “We had a 4-on-3 power play at the end of the game and I didn’t have him on the ice. This is my own analytics. After the game, we went through it and we went with the 4-on-3 we always have, but the hottest guy was sitting on the bench. You don’t need analytics to figure out that wasn’t very smart.”
For the most part, though, Nyquist has made the Red Wings look like geniuses. Brought through the organization in typically methodical fashion after being taken in the fourth round, Nyquist didn’t play an NHL game until more than three years after he was drafted in 2008 and didn’t become an NHL regular until five years later. In between were productive careers with the University of Maine and the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American League, where he won a Calder Cup championship two seasons ago.
So by the time the Red Wings turned to Nyquist and a host of other minor leaguers to save their season, he was ready to face the challenge. He was, without a doubt, the most valuable player the Red Wings had last season, scoring 23 of his 28 goals last season in a 28-game stretch from mid-January to early April. This season, he’s picked up where he left off, with three goals in the Red Wings first three games.
So is Nyquist a better NHL player because he was brought along so slowly?
“Well that’s a tough thing to answer because I wouldn’t know,” Nyquist said. “If you look around our room, a lot of the guys, even the older guys, have been through the Grand Rapids system and they do a great job down there of developing players. (Griffins coach Jeff Blashill) knows what it takes to play for Mike up here and be a Red Wing. It shows how well they develop prospects.”
This should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the way the Red Wings and their proclivity for bringing young players along. It sometimes drives their fans crazy that it is sometimes so painstaking, but you can't argue with the results. Nyquist is another mid-round or late pick that has been a find, along the lines of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. And sometime in the not-too-distant future, perhaps he'll pick up the Red Wings torch from them.
That patience has paid off for the Red Wings and it’s also about to pay off for Nyquist as well. If he puts together another season in the 30-goal range, it will stand him in good stead as he becomes a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. There have been no talks between Nyquist and the Red Wings on a new deal yet and both sides realize there is a lot of time to get something done. The question now is whether he gets a two-year deal, which is what he’d get in arbitration that will take him to unrestricted free agency, or a longer-term contract. Count on the Red Wings to try to get him locked down for at least five years, particularly if he continues to produce for them.
But what is the upper limit for Nyquist? He’s got a good combination going for him. He’s a mature player with not a lot of miles on his body. Who knows? Perhaps he can be a 40-goal scorer, perhaps even more.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” Babcock said. “He’s scored everywhere he’s been, but he’s scored points, not goals. He’s got a good shot, he’s got elite hockey sense, and obviously he’s got some confidence.”
Nyquist is already a veteran of the North American game. He’s been playing here since he was 19, when he eschewed the Swedish professional league to play U.S. college hockey. Nyquist figured it was the best way to expose himself to the North American game and get an education. He took three years of business/finance at Maine before leaving after three years to turn pro.
“I’m not done yet and here I am preaching all the education stuff and I’m not even done yet,” he said. “I’m about a semester away and I’m going to finish it one day.”