Muskegon native Justin Abdelkader isn't your typical freshman at Michigan State University.
Most first-year college students didn't spend their senior year of high school living almost 400 miles from home, traveling around the Midwest United States playing in the United States Hockey League, preparing to make the jump from high school hockey to the NCAA. Most freshmen weren't named Michigan's Mr. Hockey as the state's top high school hockey player in their junior seasons.
At the July 30th NHL Entry Draft, the Detroit Red Wings made him their second round selection with the forty-second overall pick. Since then, things have gotten very busy for the 6'1", 195 lbs. center.
Before even arriving at MSU's East Lansing campus, Abdelkader spent a week in early August in Lake Placid, NY, at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp. He was one of 43 players vying for a spot on the 2006 US National Junior team that will compete in the World Junior Championships this winter.
"Every guy out there was quality." Abdelkader said of the players at Lake Placid. "That's what I liked about it, the competition."
Since getting to MSU, Abdelkader has been kept busy.
"It's been kinda hectic, with all the meetings we've had. I kinda like the schedule better than the high school schedule."
He admitted that he's learned to go to bed early every day, so he doesn't get worn out, and that the NCAA-mandated study periods take up "a lot of your time."
Abdelkader wasn't originally planning to be in East Lansing this fall. He was going to spend a second season with the USHL's Cedar Rapids RoughRiders until discussions with his coaches convinced him he was ready to make the jump to the next level. Once that was decided, MSU was the obvious choice of schools, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both MSU alumni.
He understands that, although he's been drafted by the Wings, he's not ready for the big time just yet. He cites faceoffs as a skill he could improve on and says that his role with the Spartans will be to "provide some energy and play [his] game."
"I'm just thrilled for the opportunity to be drafted by the Red Wings. Being drafted high is just a number but I realize what I have to do and how hard it's going to be to make it to the next level."
For now, he'll focus on his studies and the MSU season and wait to hear back from Team USA.
"I thought I played well, I thought I played my game. Hopefully they saw some good things in me."
Abdelkader makes one guarantee to fans of the Spartans, Griffins, Red Wings, and any other team that he might play with on his way to, hopefully, the NHL:
"I feel like I'm a player that, you know, brings my lunch pail every day to work. I'll go to work every day."
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