CHICAGO — When you’re playing on a line with Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist, you’re not going to get a lot of attention. But that doesn’t bother Joakim Andersson.
“They’re more skilled than I am and maybe they’re more pretty to watch,” Andersson said, smiling after Saturday’s morning skate.
Brunner had 12 goals and 14 assists in 44 games during the regular season and Nyquist had three goals and three assists in 22 games. Both had dramatic, game-winning overtime goals in the first round against the Anaheim Ducks.
“Andy’s a guy that doesn’t always get the recognition that he deserves,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I think he’s been the backbone of that line, really looking after those guys defensively. Really smart two-way player, works really hard out there and really reliable defensively. He’s been a big pick-up for us, played great for us all season long and doesn’t always get the credit that he deserves because he maybe doesn’t score those highlight-reel goals like the other two do.”
Those two realize how vital Andersson’s been to their success.
“Me and Brunner can’t play the game we play out there without him as a centerman,” Nyquist said. “Me and Brunner are more offensive-type players, I would say, and Andy kind of takes care of us and makes sure nothing happens in the (defensive) zone.”
Without the lockout, Andersson, 24, might have made the team out of a normal training camp. As it was, he was told he was close.
When the Wings, who lead the Blackhawks 3-2 in their Western Conference semifinal, were racked with injuries early in the season, they gave Andersson a chance to play.
After arriving in early February, Andersson never left.
“It took a couple injuries for me to get into the lineup and then I feel like I’ve been good,” Andersson said. “I’ve been more and more confident and I’ve been doing more good stuff and got more and more minutes. I feel like I’m in the right direction.”
Nyquist had one game with the Wings in January and another in February before joining the team for good mid-March.
He and Andersson had played together quite a bit in Grand Rapids so they quickly meshed on a line when they reunited.
“We’ve had two years together,” Nyquist said. “It’s been fun. Obviously we know where we’re gonna be now because we’ve played so long with each other. I think we’re both comfortable with how we play together. So it’s a good match.”
Brunner played the early part of the season with captain Henrik Zetterberg because the two had played together for EV Zug in the Swiss League during the lockout.
But when coach Mike Babcock put Zetterberg back with his Euro Twin Pavel Datsyuk, he shifted Brunner to the line with Andersson and Nyquist.
“Obviously he’s a goal scorer and a great shot, finds holes that not many people can find on a goalie,” Nyquist said. “He’s got a lot of skill, too, and speed so he brings a lot to our line with his speed and creativity and definitely scoring ability. He’s the one that’s supposed to shoot the puck and find the net. He’s been a fun addition to our line and we enjoy playing with each other.”
Now that the three have had some time together, they’ve solidified the third line.
“That Andersson line has been a key for us because we got worked in the three-hole for the first two, three months,” Babcock said. “We couldn’t handle it.”
Andersson, the Wings’ third-round pick (88th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, was happy to hear how much he had impressed his coach.
“That’s good for me that we’ve been playing well, that I’ve been doing some good things,” Andersson said. “That means a lot that I got the opportunity to play more and more minutes here. I enjoy it.”
Although both Andersson and Nyquist are Swedes, their styles differ because Nyquist came to the United States to play at the University of Maine while Andersson remained at home to play in the Swedish Elite League.
“Andy’s kind of, I would say, a typical Swede that’s learned kind of how to play defense first,” Nyquist said. “He’s obviously really excellent defensively and that’s how he’s been throughout his whole career. I remember when we played on the junior national team together and he was our best centerman throughout all the years.”
One of Andersson’s top responsibilities as a center is taking face-offs.
During the season Andersson won 46.4 percent of his draws. In the playoffs, Andersson has lifted his face-off percentage to 54.4.
“I always wanted to be a good face-off guy and I think I’ve been pretty good in the past,” Andersson said. “Regular season was way too much up and down. I was good some games and awful some games but now in the playoffs I’ve been finding a way to win some more face-offs. That’s what I need to do to help the team.”
As a penalty killer, some of those face-offs come in the Wings’ defensive zone and could make the difference between clearing the puck or trying to withstand offensive zone pressure.
Andersson said he studies other centermen, including Datsyuk, to learn things he can use.
“I watch what guys are doing, from other teams, too,” Andersson said. “I can see what they’re doing so I can see maybe when I take a draw against them, I know what to do and maybe I can switch it up when I see what he’s doing.”
While Andersson has helped solidify the Wings’ third line, played well on the penalty kill and improved in the face-off circle, he still feels he can do more.
“What I want to do better in the NHL, what I did more in the American League, is to control the puck, have the puck a little more in breakouts and stuff,” Andersson said. “I got to find confidence to do that more here. That’s what I want to improve. If I can do that, our line will be even better, a more dominant line.”
Andersson may be able to get better but his rookie season will be tough to top unless they reach the Stanley Cup Finals. He’s loved the playoffs so far.
“It’s been awesome,” Andersson said. “These games are so much fun. The crowds are even better and the competition level out there is higher and everybody just wants to win every battle.