Traverse City Record-Eagle

Sports

July 14, 2011

Nyquist fits with Wings

Swedish forward was a 4th-round pick back in 2008

TRAVERSE CITY — Gustav Nyquist ran into a much bigger Brendan Smith at Centre ICE on Wednesday and fell flat on his back.

He came up with a grin on his face and came back with some friendly banter for Smith.

Nyquist was all smiles as the Detroit Red Wings wrapped up the last day of practice at development camp before today’s final scrimmage and skills competition.

“I love to play hockey and I’m always trying to have fun out there,” Nyquist said. “It’s fun to be around the boys. It’s a great group of guys. It’s been real fun so far.”

The 5-foot-11 winger has been bonding with teammates while in Traverse City.

“Me and (Brendan) Smitty know each other from before,” Nyquist said. “There’s a couple of new guys, but I’ve seen most of the guys before. I think we’ve all connected in this locker room pretty fast. We’re all playing soccer and stuff before practice. It kind of connects us.”

So far, so good for the 21-year-old from Sweden in his first camp as a pro.

“He’s played well,” Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “He’s a high-skilled player and he has great hockey sense. This is a good chance for him. He’s turning pro this year and this is a good chance for him to jump-start his summer to get ready for training camp.”

Nyquist’s path to the Red Wings was different from his fellow countrymen already playing in Detroit. Instead of joining the Red Wings out of Sweden, Nyquist played three years at the University of Maine.

“It helped him get used to the North American style of the game,” Nill said. “Plus, he got a great education and high level coaching. And, he was playing against older players. He was playing against some guys that were 24-25 years of age. It’s probably a closer step to pro hockey.”

At Maine, Nyquist racked up a laundry list of accolades. As a sophomore in 2010, he was the NCAA scoring champion with 19 goals and 42 assists and was one of the three finalists for the Hobey Baker award. Last winter, he tallied 51 points and was a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker.

Now, Nyquist is making the transition to the pro game. He’s taking the same path as current Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who played at Maine for three seasons before joining Detroit’s organization.

“It’s going to be a new challenge,” he said. “Pro hockey plays 82 games instead of 40 like you do in college. It’s twice the amount of games, but that’s also the fun part. To play games, that’s why you play hockey. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be fun.”

At the end of last year, Nyquist got a sampling of the next level. He joined the Grand Rapids Griffins for the final eight games and scored a goal with three assists.

“It helped a lot,” Nyquist said. “I know what’s coming now. It was a good experience for me.”

“It gave him a little taste,” Nill said. “When his college career is over, we can sit down and tell him ‘you’ve got to get stronger, and here’s why.’ But when you can see it for yourself and feel it for yourself, you see that these guys are mammoth and you’ve got to get bigger. So now going into the summer, he knows what he has to do.”

Nyquist used the week in Traverse City to work on his game. And, to have a little fun.

“I think it’s been going great for our whole team,” Nyquist said. “It’s perfect. In the middle of the summer, to come to a nice place like this, you get a little beach in too. Obviously we’re working hard with the guys and going high tempo in practice. It’s a great way to get better and get in shape for the next season.”

Nyquist and the rest of the Red Wings prospects will return to Traverse City in September for the annual Prospects Tournament before the team’s training camp begins Sept. 17.

“He’s going to come to training camp and you’re there to show what you can do,” Nill said. “Realistically, he’s probably going to start the year in Grand Rapids, but I think he’s going to turn a lot of heads. People on the outside are going to be surprised how good of a player he is. We know how good he is. I think he’s going to be ready for the NHL sooner than people realize.”

If Nyquist does reach the NHL level with Detroit, he’ll join the laundry list of Red Wings from Sweden, including captain Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg.

“They’ve all done very well and it’s hard to live up to what they’ve done,” Nyquist said. “But I’m going to do my best. My goal is to play for the Detroit Red Wings. I think it’s great that we have a lot of Swedes there. I’d feel at home if I ever get up there. That’d be fun. But obviously, I’m young and I’m going to work hard and do my best to reach Detroit as soon as possible.”

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