By DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY -- Justin Abdelkader had quite an indoctrination into the National Hockey League.
After ending his career at Michigan State -- where he helped the Spartans win the 2007 NCAA championship -- Abdelkader signed a contract with the Detroit Red Wings late last season, played in two games and then became a Black Ace -- part of the practice squad during the team's Stanley Cup run.
"It was a great experience," the 21-year-old said.
It allowed Abdelkader a chance to get a feel for the team and the league -- and to meet some of his future teammates in the process.
A second round draft pick in 2005, Abdelkader impressed the Wings' brass during his end of the season stint.
"After we signed him, we wanted to get him in a couple games in case we needed him for the playoffs," said Jim Nill, the Wings' assistant general manager, "He played very well.
"He's a solid two-way player. He plays hard. He's physical. He's got a mean streak to him. He's an in-your-face style of player."
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Abdelkader is one of the Detroit's top players in town for the eight-team NHL Prospects Tournament, which gets underway today Centre ICE.
"I just want to try to get better each day," the winger said after a Friday afternoon skate. "Today was day one."
Abdelkader had 19 goals and 21 assists in 42 games for Michigan State last season. He's expected to play for the Wings minor league affiliate in Grand Rapids this season.
"He just needs to keep developing," Nill said. "He's on the right track."
Abdelkader said he learned some valuable lessons practicing against the Wings veterans. Topping the list: Positioning.
"Guys aren't out of position and running around everywhere like they are in college," he said. "They're smart in knowing where to be at.
"And they're smart with the puck, too. Everything is stick to stick. There's no missed passes, especially with the Red Wings, one of the best transition teams in the league, if not the best."
Abdelkader, Michigan's Mr. Hockey in 2004, spent part of his summer working out at Michigan State in preparation for training camp.
"I competed hard, I worked hard this summer," he said. "I know I have to get bigger, stronger, faster. And that's what I am trying to do."
He also was able to have the Stanley Cup for a half-day in Muskegon.
"It was a neat experience to share with my community," he said.
Abdelkader, by the way, is no stranger to Traverse City hockey. His youth hockey team played the local Burger King Flames. And his Muskegon Mona Shores high school team ousted Traverse City Central 3-1 in the Division II regional in 2004.
For complete coverage of the NHL Prospects Tournament and Red Wings Training Camp, including schedules, photos and more, see