Battling a seven-game losing streak, the Detroit Red Wings made a bold step for Thursday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes and finally called up winger Gustav Nyquist from the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. Just 17 seconds into the game, Nyquist rewarded their faith in him by netting his first goal of the season, and he added the game-winning goal on a breakaway in the third period. That two-goal effort is more of an offensive contribution in one game than what the Red Wings have received from Dan Cleary (22 games), Drew Miller (21 games) or Mikael Samuelsson (11 games). Of that trio, Cleary continues to be the most disappointing player on the roster, and the decision to bring him back as a free agent is set to go down as one of the bigger mistakes in recent franchise history.
It’s fair to say that the Red Wings haven’t had the best luck with free agents the past few summers, but they made their best effort to change that trend by bringing in Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson. Cleary was brought back after attracting little attention around the league (only a tryout agreement with the Philadelphia Flyers) and it came as quite a surprise to a Detroit fanbase that was finally looking forward to seeing young prospects get their shot with the Red Wings. Bringing back Cleary forced Nyquist to the AHL to start the season, where he was leading the Griffins with seven goals and 21 points through 15 games at the time of his call-up. The young Swede also led the Griffins last season with 23 goals and 60 points, even while spending 22 games with the Red Wings. He flashed potential to be a scoring threat while with Detroit, and was a big playoff contributor on the third line in the playoffs.
The Red Wings confirmed on Friday that Nyquist will be sticking with the team the rest of the season, which is the right call. With defenseman Danny DeKeyser on long term injured reserve, keeping Nyquist doesn’t have an immediate impact on the salary cap. Once the team returns to full strength, moves will have to be made and that more or less ends up being a result of the Cleary signing. Bringing back a 34-year-old veteran who was three years removed from anything resembling a quality season may be a move that was made with the best of intentions, but it was a mistake and one that may have cost the Red Wings a few points. Nyquist showed on Thursday why he deserves a spot in the lineup, and that is something that Cleary has still failed to do after 22 games.