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December 2013 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Next tier of prospects keep the ship afloat...
By Jason Kasiorek
January 1, 2014

After graduating several prospects to the NHL from last years club in Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist among others, a new group has moved up onto the developmental radar. Names like Tomas Jurco, Luke Glendening and Petr Mrazek have burst into prominence and earned significant looks in the NHL in December. This has paved the way for a third group to step up and keep the Griffins juggernaut moving forward. Teemu Pulkkinen is the latest player to step up, notching a point per game on the month. He joins the surprising development of Mitch Callahan, the emergence of defensemen Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet, increased scoring from Riley Sheahan and Landon Ferraro, and the steady play of Thomas McCollum as the next group establishes themselves.

The Griffins got off to a blazing start, winning 6 of their first 7 games to post a record of 7-4-1 in December, good enough 15 points. With a record of 22-8-1-2 on the season they are comfortably in 1st place in the Midwest Division 9 points ahead of 2nd place Milwaukee. They remain in second place in the Conference, one point behind the Abbotsford Heat, and in 4th place in the AHL, 2 pts behind #1 Manchester with 2 games in hand. They are second in the AHL in average attendance at 7844 per game. The team has fallen from 1st in offense to 3rd but have still scored 3.52 goals per game (116 goals) as opposed to giving up an average of 2.36 (78 goals) giving them an incredible differential of 1.16 goals per game.

The following is a review for December:

OFFENSE - The lines have been pretty fluid this month for the Griffins, thanks to the revolving door of players, and Coach Blashill going with 7 defenseman and 11 forwards on several nights. More often than not, the center and right wing stay together, and the other other wing moves around from game to game and even shift to shift. Calle Jarnkrok has played as the number one center, generally flanked by Teemu Pulkkinen on one side and several players on the other. Tomas Jurco, Mitch Callahan and Jeff Hoggan have all seen time on the left side of that trio. Landon Ferraro has played in the number two spot, most recently with Cory Emmerton and Riley Sheahan, although Jurco and Hoggan have also filled in as well.

David McIntyre has played all over the lineup, but has spent more games as the #3 center with Jordan Tootoo on the right and either Callahan, Nestrasil or Triston Grant on the portside. Andrej Nestrasil has been filling the role of #4 center, and looks to be growing into it quite nicely. He has played with Grant on the left side most of the time, but has been the fill in line with no regular right winger. Martin Frk has played there sparingly during his games in the lineup. Luke Glendening saw a few games in GR but spent most of the month in Detroit. The same could be said for Louis-Marc Aubry and Trevor Parkes who had brief stints with the Griffins, usually playing together with Frk as the right wing, before returning to Toledo (ECHL).

December Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Teemu Pulkkinen 12 3 8 11 6 4 27Slick sniper picks up scoring slack.
Cory Emmerton 8 5 4 9 0 3 17Veteran reacts to demotion with offensive outburst.
Jeff Hoggan 10 4 5 9 6 1 27An example on and off the ice.
Landon Ferraro 12 4 5 9 19 3 32Moving around the lineup ignites scoring.
Mitchell Callahan 12 4 1 5 6 3 36Two-way threat displays clutch touch.
Riley Sheahan 7 2 3 5 2 0 13Strong play leads to NHL recall.
Luke Glendening4 2 2 4 4 1 7Two goals at winter classic highlight short stint in GR.
Tomas Jurco6 1 3 4 6 0 15Scoring leader impresses in NHL stint.
Calle Jarnkrok12 2 1 3 2 0 23Still waiting for top prospect to take next step.
David McIntyre 12 1 2 3 8 1 22Steadying presence despite moving around the lineup.
Jordan Tootoo 8 0 3 3 32 3 19Superpest brings grit, energy and sometimes a sideshow.
Andrej Nestrasil10 1 1 2 2 -2 8Growing nicely into defensive center role.
Triston Grant 10 1 0 1 27 -3 10Banger cools off but still provides presence.
Louis-Marc Aubry 3 0 0 0 0 -1 5Unimpressive in short stint before going back to ECHL.
Trevor Parkes 4 0 0 0 2 -1 4ECHL scoring machine leaves offense behind.
Martin Frk 5 0 0 0 2 -1 3QMJHL Offensive wizard struggling in AHL.

DEFENSE - In an attempt to get recently healthy rearguard Nick Jensen some playing time, Coach Blashill has dressed seven defenseman several times. The incumbent #1 tandem of Nathan Paetsch and Adam Almquist has remained a constant. Almquist has struggled in his own end as of late, but the pair remain a viable option that can log a ton of ice time in all situations. Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet have played above their rookie expectations and have been airtight defensively. Marchenko has been given a look on the powerplay and looked comfortable in the role. Brennan Evans, the safety net, has seen time paired with youngsters Ryan Sproul and Nick Jensen, covering for the learning curve in playing defense in the AHL. The veteran defenseman has found a surprising scoring touch, notching a pair of goals (his first two regular season tallies as a Griffin) and 3 assists in December. Gleason Fournier spent most of the month as a healthy scratch but provides a nice insurance policy for later in the season.

December Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Adam Almquist 12 0 6 6 10 -4 16Off month defensively for skilled puck-mover.
Brennan Evans 9 2 3 5 19 2 9Rugged rearguard finds offensive game.
Ryan Sproul 12 1 3 4 6 3 26Freshman adjusting to pro's with up-and-down month.
Nathan Paetsch11 0 4 4 0 2 19Consistent veteran quietly has good month.
Alexey Marchenko 12 0 3 3 2 2 8 Strong stretch for two-way defender.
Xavier Ouellet12 1 0 1 8 0 16Two-way blueliner working on offensive game.
Gleason Fournier 2 0 0 0 0 0 2Third year man finding it tough to get into the lineup.
Nick Jensen 8 0 0 0 0 2 1Promising rearguard finally getting a look.

GOALTENDING - Ace Petr Mrazek started the month off in style, winning his first two games and posting gaudy numbers (1.00GAA and .969 Save Percentage). The only problem was that he was recalled to Detroit and spent the month (and counting...) there. That left the keys in the hands of backup Thomas McCollum. McCollum got off to a good start winning four of his first five decisions including his first shutout of the season. Things started to slip the second half of the month as Tom made 10 straight starts and he only had one win to show for his last five games. He ended December with a 5-4-1 record with a 2.41GAA and .915 Sv%. Third stringer Jared Coreau got into one game in relief, playing just under a period but stopping all 8 shots he saw.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The penalty kill has been an achilles heel for this team for several seasons, but has been on the upswing as of late. The Griffins only gave up 4 powerplay goals in 51 chances in December to raise their overall ranking from 20th (82.4%) to 7th (85.6%). On the road the team was perfect killing 17 consecutive man-advantages where they are ranked 3rd overall at 89% (73 for 82). At home they improved from 27th (75.7%) to 23rd (81.7%), killing off 30 of 34 chances (88.2%) in December. Mitch Callahan, Riley Sheahan and Landon Ferraro are the main penalty killers up front with Cory Emmerton, Calle Jarnkrok, Luke Glendening and David McIntyre filling in as needed.

With all of the talent that was out of the lineup in December, it is no surprise that the powerplay was a little less potent. At home the man-advantage unit fell from 2nd (26.7%) to 4th (23.9%) tallying 8 goals in 37 chances. On the road for December they managed 1 goal in 11 chances falling from 20th (15.2%) to 21st (13.6%). Overall they sit 12th at 18.2% (27 for 148), down from last month at 18.8%. Jeff Hoggan (6 goals), Tomas Jurco (5 goals), Teemu Pulkkinen (8pts), and Calle Jarnkrok (4 goals) are all mainstays up front with Almquist (10 assists), Sproul (8 pts) and Paetsch (7 assists) manning the points. Andrej Nestrasil has filled in recently and has looked good using his size in front of the net.

THREE STARS OF THE MONTH - First Star - Teemu Pulkkinen - The talented Finn has been the latest Griffin to step up his game, leading the team in scoring for the month with 11 points in 12 games. He accomplished this feat while several of the team's top players were in Detroit, shrugging off the added pressure.

Second Star - Brennan Evans - The rugged veteran is on his way to a career year statistically and scored 2 goals and 3 assists in only 9 games. His offensive contributions are strictly a bonus for one of the team's best defenders whose value is generally measured in intangibles like his leadership and physical presence.

Third Star - Jeff Hoggan - The captain has missed games due to injury and the curse of the rotating veteran scratch, but he has punctuated his time in the lineup with timely scoring. He tallied 9 points in the 10 games he played in and has been a force at both ends of the ice.

CURRENT INJURIES - Willie Coetzee - Knee - Indefinite.

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - D Richard Nedomlel Assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... C Cory Emmerton Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Petr Mrazek Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Jared Coreau Recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... C Emmerton Assigned by Detroit... C Luke Glendening Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW Patrick Eaves Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW Tomas Jurco Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW Trevor Parkes Recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... C Riley Sheahan Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... C Louis-Marc Aubry Recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... RW Jordan Tootoo Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW Martin Frk Recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... C Aubry Assigned to Toledo... D Gleason Fournier Assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... C Aubry Recalled from Toledo... D Fournier Recalled from Toledo... RW Tootoo Assigned by Detroit... C Aubry Assigned to Toledo... LW Parkes Assigned to Toledo... C Sheahan Assigned by Detroit... LW Parkes Recalled from Toledo... LW Parkes Assigned to Toledo... C Glendening Assigned by Detroit... RW Jurco Assigned by Detroit... C Glendening Recalled by Detroit...

KEY STATS - Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen are tied for 15th in AHL scoring with 27 points... Ryan Sproul and Adam Almquist are tied for 7th in defense scoring with 19 points... Sproul is the second leading rookie rearguard scorer... Petr Mrazek is 2nd in the AHL with a 2.09 GAA... Mrazek is also third in save percentage at .927... Thomas McCollum is tied for 9th in wins with 12... Mitch Callahan is tied for 11th in goal scoring with 13... Adam Almquist is tied for 8th in the AHL with 19 assists... Jeff Hoggan is tied for 11th in powerplay goals with 6... Almquist is 10th in the AHL with 10 powerplay assists... Callahan is tied for 3rd with 2 shorthanded goals... Cory Emmerton is tied for 3rd in First Goals with 4... Landon Ferraro is tied for 5th with 3 insurance goals... Mitch Callahan, Alexey Marchenko, Teemu Pulkkinen and Ryan Sproul are tied for 4th in plus/minus at +15... Brennan Evans is tied for 9th at +13... Cory Emmerton is tied for 1st in the AHL with 2 short-handed assists...

IN THE PIPELINE - Trevor Parkes has kept his hot hand, scoring 5 goals and 12 points in 8 games to earn a couple of games in the AHL. He is among the league leaders in several offensive categories including third in goals with 15. Rookie Martin Frk chipped in 6 points in 6 games and was also recalled to Grand Rapids. The freshman forward is working hard to improve his game but has a ways to go as evidenced by his -11 rating and only 10 shots on goal in December. Fellow first-year man Marek Tvrdon has cooled off as of late, going scoreless in his last four contests. He tallied 4 goals and an assist in 9 games and until recently had been generating scoring chances.

Long-time Griffin Louis-Marc Aubry spent most of the month in Toledo with mixed results. The hulking forward, a frequent scratch the first few months added 2 goals and 3 assists in 9 games, and the organization would like to see what he looks like on the wing. Defenseman Max Nicastro's numbers have taken a beating playing for such a poor defensive club. The stay at home rearguard notched 3 assists in 11 games with 18 penalty minutes and a -3 rating. Richard Nedomlel remains a raw work in progress. His stats line reads 12-1-0-1-13-(-7) for the month, but his true value is not measured in numbers. The mammoth blueliner got into some trouble when his illegal head hit drew a match penalty and left his team shorthanded for 10 minutes.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan were the most recent Griffins to make it to the big stage, joining the parent Red Wings last month. This raised the number of former Griffins in the NHL this season to 38. Current stats as of 1/1/14:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 375 10 15 19 3
Adam Almquist, Detroit 21 0 1 0 -1
Joakim Andersson, Detroit 42 6 6 12 8 -10
Chad Billins, Calgary 2 0 2 2 0 -1
Sheldon Brookbank, Chicago 24 12 3 31 3
Carlo Colaiacovo, St Louis 9 02 2 8 0
Chris Conner, Pittsburgh 19 41 5 2 -3
Danny DeKeyser, Detroit 27 28 10 12 1
Patrick Eaves, Detroit 11 1 0 1 2 -6
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 8 1 1 2 0 0
Cory Emmerton, Detroit 9 0 2 2 4-1
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 29 1 7 8 24 9
Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay 40 15 17 32 10 3
Luke Glendening, Detroit 17 0 1 1 4 -7
Darren Helm, Detroit 16 7 4 11 2 6
Jiri Hudler, Calgary 40 11 22 33 12 1
Tomas Jurco, Detroit 7 2 1 3 2 0
Chris Kelly, Boston 29 3 4 7 10 -1
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 40 1 10 11 12 -10
Tomas Kopecky, Florida 36 35 8 14 0
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 40 4 24 28 26 7
Brian Lashoff, Detroit 38 0 2 2 18 -2
Ville Leino, Buffalo 26 0 6 6 6 -6
Chris Mueller, Dallas 1 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 42 5 1 6 99 -5
Kris Newbury, Philadelphia 4 0 1 1 7 0
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit 17 5 4 9 4 3
Xavier Ouellet, Detroit 3 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Quincey, Detroit 42 2 5 7 49 -14
Riley Sheahan, Detroit 4 0 2 2 0 2
Brendan Smith, Detroit 32 1 8 9 38 -5
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 39 11 19 30 26 -14
Tomas Tatar, Detroit 34 7 8 15 6 0
Jordan Tootoo, Detroit 10 0 1 1 5 -3

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jonas Gustavsson, Detroit 17 11-3-2 2.39 .914
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 23 6-9-8 2.72 .907
Joey MacDonald, Calgary 7 3-3-1 3.17 .885
Petr Mrazek, Detroit 4 1-2-0 1.90 .910

UP NEXT - The team plays 8 of 12 games at home in January, starting with a visit from long-time foe Chicago. Next up is a quick bus trip to Rockford to take on the feisty Rockford IceHogs. The boys in blue get to enjoy Van Andel Arena for the next 20 days, starting with a rematch with the IceHogs, a pair of games versus the Iowa Wild, a midweek tilt with the Wolves and finally a pair of games against the Abbotsford Heat for Western Conference dominance. Grand Rapids then heads for warmer weather with a three game swing in Texas, visiting the Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage before finishing at home with another rematch with the Wolves.