USA Hockey’s director of hockey operations John Vanbiesbrouck believes Justin Abdelkader did enough at the World Championships to draw the interest of NHL teams.
“I think Justin proved that he can really play, and help a team with a great leadership,” Vanbiesbrouck said via cell from the tournament in Latvia. “That’s hard to come by in today’s NHL.”
The former Detroit Red Wings player was captain of Team USA until he suffered a lower body injury in a 2-0 win against Germany. The injury prevents him from playing, but opted to stay with the team to provide leadership and support. He has been standing behind the bench at games to help keep the energy level strong.
Abdelkader’s leadership key to Americans
Team USA went into a semifinal matchup against Canada on a seven-game winning streak. “We have have good leadership,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “Justin has been a big piece.”
The Red Wings bought out the last three seasons of Abdelkader’s contract last fall. He’s a feisty competitor, but didn’t immediately find another NHL job. Eventually, he signed with Zug AV in the Swiss National League.
“Sometimes things get over-complicated because you over-complicate them,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “Justin is a very uncomplicated player. He can help you in all aspects of the game. We were fortunate that he was willing to play. He wanted to come because he wanted to prove that he can play at a high level and he really can.”
Good showing in Switzerland
Abdelkader, 34, played impressively well in Switzerland, registering eight points in nine regular-season games. He then played a significant role in helping Zug AV win the league’s championship, contributing six goals and three assists and 47 penalty minutes in 13 games. Zug AV swept Servette in a five-game series.
Vanbiesbrouk said the injury won’t hold back Abdelkader. The Americans haven’t provided any details about the injury, but it appeared on the replay as if he hurt his knee.
“I don’t think this is a major setback, but he can’t continue in the tournament,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “He will have to have some work done.”
Several NHL teams will be looking to upgrade their bottom six forward group this offseason, plus the Seattle Kraken is entering the league. Because of his leadership ability and gritty style, Abdelkader might be a good fit there.
Said former NHL goalie Vanbiesbrouck: “I think he can help just about any team.”