DETROIT – Brad Stuart has been here before.
As a 20-year-old rookie in San Jose, Stuart and Gary Suter were the Sharks’ top-unit defensemen on the power play. After Suter left, Stuart was the No. 1 blue-liner in San Jose with the man-advantage, leading the team in 2003-04 with 3:52 of power-play ice time power game.
In Boston, in Los Angeles as recently as 2006-07, Stuart, who was the third overall draft pick in 1998, has been a power-play regular.
With Jason Williams out with a broken leg, Stuart will likely be back in the power-play rotation when the Red Wings take the ice in Columbus tomorrow (7 p.m., FSN).
Williams, a right-handed shooting forward who plays the point with the man-advantage, and Niklas Kronwall have been the Red Wings’ second blue-line combo. Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski are on the top unit.
Williams has been one of the Red Wings' top power-play performers. He has been on the ice for 9.5 goals scored per 60 minutes of power-play ice time -- a figure that is tops among Detroit defensemen. The team averages 7.2 goals per 60 minutes of power-play time.
“We all know (Stuart) has got a great shot and he sees the ice real well,” said Kronwall. “He’ll fit in just perfect.”
Coach Mike Babcock said that Lidstrom, Rafalski and Kronwall will be rotated on the power play now, but that Stuart will be the next option when one of those three can’t man the blue line.
“He’s got the real hard shot,” said Babcock of Stuart. “He’s always played on the power play prior to coming here. We’ve just used him way more on the penalty-kill role and the physical-matchup role. We like him getting his minutes that way. But obviously when things change, things change. You’ve got to adjust.”
In 2005-06 with San Jose, Stuart averaged 4:57 of power-play time per game. That same season, he had a career high of seven power-play goals – one of four campaigns with at least five power-play goals for Stuart.
But Stuart’s role in Detroit has been quite different. He’s on the top penalty-kill unit and used as a physical, shut-down defenseman.
Last winter, Stuart was sixth among Detroit defensemen in power-play time per game, trailing forward Mikael Samuelsson and Derek Meech. This season, Stuart has averaged just 27 seconds of power-play ice time per game.
“Earlier in my career, sure, if I wasn’t playing the power play, I would have gotten more upset, let it affect me,” said Stuart. “But I’ve gotten to the point now where as long as I feel like I’m contributing and an important part of the team, I’ll do whatever they need me to do.”
And until Williams’ broken leg heals, there is a need on the power play.
“Certainly it’s fun playing the power play, but I’ve put my focus on other parts of my game getting better,” said Stuart. “I’ve really taken pride in killing penalties and just playing strong, physical defense. But any time you get a chance to be on the power play and get some time out there is nice. I’ve just accepted that that’s not what they need me to do here, so it’s not a big deal.”