They say defense wins championships, but last I checked, nobody won the Stanley Cup by tossing shutouts every game. You still have to have pucksters who can bury a goal now and again.
Or in Gustav Nyquist’s case, again and again and again.
Nyquist is a typical Red Wings forward: skilled, Swedish and unearthed. Somehow 120 players were selected ahead of Nyquist, who went to the Red Wings as the 121st choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
The 24-year-old Nyquist is yet another find of Red Wings’ European Scouting Director Hakan Andersson, a former fishing tour guide who clearly still knows how to catch them.
The Red Wings’ roster is filled with guys whose NHL success belies where they were selected in their respective drafts.
Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, to name just three, are stars who you would think were first round picks. After all, what scout worth his travelogue could have missed on these guys, eh?
But Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ Swedish captain, was a seventh round selection in 1999. The Russian Datsyuk was taken in the sixth round in 1998. And Franzen, another Swede, was a third round pick in 2004.
Now here comes Nyquist, who’s popping in goals like the opposing goalies are pylons, drafted by the Red Wings only after 120 players—six teams’ worth of nightly skaters—ahead of him were snatched up.
The Red Wings don’t draft players, they pan for them.
The name of the game is to score more than the opposition, and by that standard, Nyquist is the quintessential NHL player, because pretty much every puck he shoots these days finds the back of the net.
Nyquist didn’t join the Red Wings until November 21, from Grand Rapids of the AHL. In his first game this season, he scored twice. It seemed like a harbinger, because of Nyquist’s heroics in the 2013 playoffs, which included a game-winner in overtime in Anaheim in the first round.
But after that two-goal debut in November, Nyquist’s scoring stick fell asleep, and on January 18, he had just five goals.
In 29 games since January 18, Nyquist has 23 goals.
That’s Crosby and Ovechkin-ish.
With Zetterberg and Datsyuk felled by injuries for much of the 2014 portion of the season schedule, it’s been Nyquist to the rescue. When he scores a goal, the Red Wings are 16-6.
It seems as if every Nyquist goal has some sort of importance attached to it. He’s either giving the Red Wings the lead, tying the game, or winning the game.
Nyquist is a Bruce Martyn kind of player: He shoots, he scoooooores!
The brilliance of Nyquist is that he scores from everywhere on the ice, and from any position—skating, falling, sliding, what have you. All that’s left is for him to beat a goalie from the third row of the stands—and that might be coming.
If you miss a Red Wings game on any given night, you might want to just flip on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” because one of Nyquist’s goals is likely going to end up there as an evening highlight of the most pretty.
So much have Nyquist’s exploits in 2014 been talked about around the league, that some NHL observers have suggested that Nyquist should garner some Hart Trophy (MVP) consideration. Now, that’s likely Sidney Crosby’s award to lose, but to even be mentioned is something else, given Nyquist’s paltry five goals in mid-January.
Part of Nyquist’s hockey genius lies in his speed. Even Franzen, Mr. Streaky himself, marvels at his fellow Swede.
“He’s faster with the puck than without it, and that’s pretty uncommon,” Franzen told the Detroit Free Press after Friday night’s 3-2 win over Buffalo—a game in which Nyquist, strangely enough, didn’t score.
But this goal scoring stuff isn’t unique to Nyquist’s NHL career. Everywhere he’s played, he’s been a goalie’s nightmare.
Nyquist has been beating goaltenders like mules since he was 16 years old and scoring nine goals in just 14 games playing for the Malmo Redhawks in a Swedish under-18 league.
After being drafted by the Red Wings, Nyquist went to the University of Maine and in three seasons he scored 50 goals in 113 games.
Then it was time to turn pro, and in two seasons in Grand Rapids, Nyquist deposited 45 goals past AHL goalies.
Nyquist first endeared himself to Red Wings fans when he won Game 2 of the Anaheim series last spring in overtime, a huge tally that tied that series, 1-1. The Red Wings went on to win the series in seven games.
But so prolific is Nyquist this season, that his shooting percentage (goals divided by shots on goal), is 19.9%, which is more than twice the league average. The Red Wings as a team have a shooting percentage of 8.8%.
That means, basically, that Nyquist scores a goal for every five shots he takes. That’s some deadly stuff.
Apparently not content with scoring goals in every way imaginable, Nyquist himself is thinking of different ways to score.
“You look at Pav (Datsyuk) and Z (Zetterberg), they have two guys hanging on their backs and they’re still so strong on the puck,” Nyquist told the Free Press. “That’s something I can learn from.”
I’m sure opposing goalies are just thrilled to hear that. The guy who has 23 goals in his past 28 games wants to start scoring with guys hanging on his back.
Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the only way you can stop Nyquist from scoring in 2014—so far.
So the next time you see two defenders draped over a player, and all you can see of that player is the puck leaving his stick and eluding the goalie, you’ll know who that player is.
No. 14 in red and white.