DETROIT — Like most young hockey fans growing up in Metro Detroit, David Legwand loved the Red Wings.
Now that he’s a member of the team, the Grosse Pointe Woods native and proud owner of a Steve Yzerman jersey is excited to get on the ice and play in front of the hometown crowd.
"Any kid that gets to this level, that gets a chance to play at this level, wants to play in front of their friends and family in their hometown," Legwand said after Thursday’s morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. "I had that opportunity.
"I don’t know if this opportunity would have arose in July or June (when he becomes an unrestricted free agent). It arose now, so I jumped at the chance."
Legwand, Nashville’s very first draft pick back in 1998, had to waive his no-trade clause Wednesday to join the Red Wings. It took just a phone call back home to his family in Detroit and then deal was done: Legwand to Detroit for Patrick Eaves, prospect Calle Jarnkrok and a conditional third-round draft pick.
It’s exciting to be back.
"I grew up at 7 (Mile) and 94," Legwand said. "It’s close to home. I grew up playing for Little Caesar’s and the Compuware programs. We all know how good the minor hockey is around here. It’s exciting to be back."
Dealing for Legwand became a necessity for the Wings because they’ve been decimated by injuries at the center-ice position. Detroit’s top four centers — Henrik Zetterberg (back), Pavel Datsyuk (knee), Darren Helm (headaches) and Stephen Weiss (sports hernia) — are all out. That means that Legwand is slated to center the Red Wings’ top line of Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist starting Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche at Joe Louis Arena.
"We played him a lot through the years, so we know he’s a great player, a smart player," Franzen said of Legwand. "He’s tough to play against. He’s that guys who’s always on top of you.
"He’s a good two-way guy, so it’s good to have him here."
Franzen hopes the transition from playing against Legwand to being on the same line with him won’t be too difficult.
"You never know," Franzen said. "He’s a smart guy out there. He’s probably going to try to read off me and Gus as much as possible, and go from there."
Nyquist was only 9 years old when Legwand broke into the NHL 15 years ago and fully understands that the Wings needed him to shore up center ice, especially with the team fighting for their playoff lives.
"It’s nice to get an established center," Nyquist said. "Our goal is to get into the playoffs. That’s the message that has been sent.
"We needed a centerman because of all the injuries, and we’re happy to have him."
Wings coach Mike Babcock could be the happiest of all. This entire season, he’s had to constantly juggle the lineup because of injuries and count on younger forwards, such as Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco.
"We needed a veteran guy to help these kids," Babcock said. "These kids are real good players, but a little leadership helps.
"He’s got 40 points, can pass the puck. He can play on your power play and can play against real players, so it’ll be a good fit for us."
Babcock doesn’t believe it will take Legwand long to become accustomed to Detroit’s style of play and his new teammates. It will help that Legwand often skates with the Wings during the summer. Playing in the same division also has made him familiar with Detroit.
"Number one, he’s not a kid," Babcock said. "He’s a pro and so he’s going to be comfortable anyway. He knows that guys. I think that helps him.
"The few things that we do different than Nashville, I mean, he’s going to pick up over time. We don’t need him thinking tonight, just playing. And we’ve talked about that, and we look forward to him helping us."
Legwand is focused on helping the Wings make the playoffs this season, refusing to worry about where he’ll be playing a year from now.
"I’m from here, I grew up here, and obviously they made a trade for me," Legwand said. "If it’s something long term, that’s what it is.
"We’re going to play the last six weeks out, get into the playoffs and hopefully make a long run, then everything will take care of itself."