ORONO, Maine — Gustav Nyquist was back with his friends and former teammates at the University of Maine’s annual hockey banquet Friday night.
Last spring, Nyquist, a two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist and All-American, decided to pass up his senior year at Maine to sign with the Detroit Red Wings, who drafted him in the fourth round (121st overall) in 2008.
Over the last year, he has set the single-season rookie scoring record for the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Griffins of the American Hockey League with 58 points in 56 games, played in the AHL All-Star game, scored his first NHL goal and played in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He played a total of 78 games between Grand Rapids and Detroit.
“If you had told me before this season that I would play in the [Stanley Cup] playoffs, I probably wouldn’t have believed it,” said the 22-year-old Nyquist. “So it has been a fun year, for sure.”
He appeared in four Stanley Cup playoff games, but didn’t have any points.
Detroit was eliminated in the first round by the Nashville Predators in five games.
“It was a great experience,” said Nyquist. “Obviously, we didn’t perform the way we wanted to. We thought we had a great team and would make a [deep] run. But Nashville is a tough team and they had a great goalie [Pekka Rinne].
“The playoffs are so tight. It’s crazy out there. Everyone has to work for every inch of ice,” added Nyquist.
He had 22 goals and 36 assists in 56 games for Grand Rapids and had a goal and six assists in 18 regular season games for the Red Wings.
He scored his first NHL goal on a pass from Pavel Datsyuk on March 26 against Columbus.
“It wasn’t a bad score sheet with assists from Pavel Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi,” quipped Nyquist. “It was a lot of fun. It was a real nice pass.”
Nyquist played both left and right wing and did see some time on a line with Datsyuk, one of the NHL’s most dynamic forwards.
“It’s definitely something special when you play on a line with a guy like Datsyuk, for sure,” said Nyquist.
He played on a variety of lines with Detroit.
“I was in some different roles. But wherever I got to play, it was a lot of fun. I was excited every time I was on the ice,” said Nyquist.
“I felt more and more comfortable the more games I played up there,” he added.
The jump from college hockey to pro hockey is a significant one, he said. He also noted that there is a noteworthy transition from the AHL to the NHL.
“There’s definitely more speed [in pro hockey]. It’s a faster game. You can’t be out of position. It’s more structured,” said Nyquist. “You can’t give up the puck in certain places on the ice. It’s important [to avoid turnovers].
“Another big difference was the strength of the players. You’re playing against men. It’s a big adjustment,” said Nyquist, who added that playing in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena was “unbelievable. It’s sold out every night.”
He said playing in Grand Rapids was valuable in that “I learned the pro style game early. I learned a lot down there. I played with some good players. It helped me.”
He experienced playing three games in three nights in the AHL.
“It wears on your body. You’ve got to get rest right after the game and you’ve got to eat a lot. It can be tough. Sometimes when you play three games in three nights, you play in three different locations. So you get on the bus right after the game and try to sleep on the bus.
“It’s an adjustment but it’s good. It helps you learn how to take care of your body,” he said.
He enjoyed playing in Detroit with former Black Bear All-American goaltender Jimmy Howard.
“He’s a great guy in the locker room and an unbelievable goalie on the ice as well. He’ll be a big part of the Red Wings for a long time,” said Nyquist, who led Maine in scoring in all three of his years and led the nation in scoring his sophomore year with 61 points.
Howard said Nyquist has a bright future with the Wings.
“He’s definitely a player with a future in this organization,” said Howard before the playoffs. “The sky is the limit for him. He has great skill, he reads plays out there and he has really good speed. Once he figures out how to put it all together, he’s going to be really good.”
Nyquist will return to his native Sweden this summer and will work out diligently.
“I’ve got to get stronger and quicker,” said the 5-foot-10, 169-pound Nyquist.
He said his three years at Maine “really prepared me for the pro level. It was three of the best years of my life. It was an amazing experience.”
He said he kept close tabs on his former teammates.
“I was happy to see they did well this season [making the NCAA Tournament],” said Nyquist. “Unfortunately, they lost out [in the first round]. It was a tough loss for them. I had hoped they’d go further. But they did a great job. I was proud of them.”