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Dec. 28, 2010

by Ansar Khan -

DENVER -- When anyone with the Detroit Red Wings is asked about Jan Mursak, the first thing they mention is his speed.

He might not be as fast as Darren Helm, but he's close.

Helm realized that in 2008-09, when he and Mursak played together for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

"He's a really good skater, really fast,'' Helm said. "He challenges me quite a bit with his speed and how he handles the puck. He's a really energetic player. He knows how to put the puck in the net. He's got a lot of skill.''

Mursak has offensive upside, but in Detroit, he'll be expected to play a similar role as Helm: use his speed to forecheck hard, pressure opponents into making mistakes, provide energy and be responsible in his own end.

Mursak, 22, made his NHL debut Monday in Colorado, logging 6:55 in ice time in his team's 4-3 overtime victory.

Mursak was recalled from the Griffins to replace Danny Cleary, who is out 4-6 weeks with a fractured left ankle, after being hit with a shot by teammate Brad Stuart Sunday in Minnesota.

The Red Wings can't replace Cleary's offense -- he leads the team with 16 goals -- but this is nonetheless a tremendous opportunity for Mursak to prove he is an NHL player.

"He likes to forecheck. He'll put pressure on the defense,'' Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "He'll go to the hard areas.

"We want our fourth-line guys to provide minutes, energy, so other guys can be fresh and rested.''

Mursak called it a dream come true.

"I just want to keep it simple, do what I do best,'' Mursak said before the game. "I need to keep skating, that's one of my biggest (strengths). I play a pretty fast game, I'm a pretty good forechecker. I'm skating a lot, battling in the corners, chasing the puck down.''

Mursak, the first Red Wing to wear No. 39 since goaltender Dominik Hasek in 2007-08, was fourth on the Griffins with 23 points, including 10 goals, in 33 games.

"I had a really good start, coming strong from camp,'' Mursak said. "Lately, I have slowed down. I was not producing as much as I expected. But sometimes everything goes your way, sometimes nothing goes your way. I just need to keep it simple.''

The Slovenian right wing was a prolific scorer in juniors with the Saginaw Spirit after being drafted in the sixth round by the Red Wings in 2006 (182nd overall). His first pro season was an eye-opener, though, as he struggled in Grand Rapids in 2008-09, with two goals and nine points in 51 games, getting scratched often.

"My first season in Grand Rapids was not really good,'' Mursak said. "Nothing went my way. I didn't play as much as I wanted to. Older guys were playing more than I did. I was really upset. It was getting worse and worse.

"But then my second year I came with lower expectations and everything just kept building up and it went really good.''

He had a good bounce-back season with 24 goals and 42 points in 2009-10.

"After this year my contract is up, so I was thinking I might get a look from Detroit because they want to see what I can do at this level,'' Mursak said. "Hopefully I can stay for a few weeks until the other guys get healthy.''

Holland said Cleary and Pavel Datsyuk (broken right hand) are on a similar time frame. They're expected to return shortly before or immediately after the all-star break (Jan. 27-31).

Datsyuk and Cleary accounted for a large chunk of Detroit's offense (28 goals, 65 points). The team also will be without third-line center Mike Modano (lacerated wrist) until March.

"We're going to have to adjust a little. We have to find a way to grind out wins,'' Holland said. "We're in a dogfight in our conference."

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