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December 2006 Griffins Report
Diamond In The Rough - Ericsson Steps to the Forefront...
By Jason Kasiorek

Jonathan Ericsson was an unknown quantity heading into this season, his first in North America. The very last pick in the 2002 draft overcame a tough draft position (291st), a late change in position from center to defense, and a lack of ice time in Sweden to emerge as a bona fide prospect. Ericsson turned in an impressive training camp, and has only gotten better with more ice time and responsibility as the season has progressed. He gets it done at both ends of the rink as evidenced by his club leading +10 rating, and leads all Griffins' blueliner's in scoring with 3-14-17 in 33 games, a pace that would see him post an impressive 40 point season.

The numbers however do not tell the whole story, as Ericsson is reminiscent of another Swedish defensive star for Grand Rapids, Niklas Kronwall. He rarely makes mistakes, and recovers very quickly when he does. He does not have Kronwall's penchant for open ice hits, but does play the body, and has even dropped the gloves on occasion, giving a pretty good accounting of himself. If he continues to develop at this pace, he could very well find himself auditioning for a job in Detroit (NHL) next season.

The Griffins currently stand in 4th place in the Northern Division, a distant five points behind Manitoba for the third spot. Grand Rapids also finds itself two points out of a playoff spot with a record of 15-15-4-2, good enough for ninth in the Western Conference. Goaltender Jimmy Howard stands tenth in the league with 12 wins on the season.

The following is a review for December:

OFFENSE - The lineup settled down a lot in December, and the end result was a team that started to play more like a team. The lines began to take shape, and except for some minor tinkering remained the same much of the month. The number one line of Kip Miller (14-5-10-15) flanked by Josh Langfeld (14-5-7-12) and Darryl Bootland (13-5-1-6) scored 15 goals in 14 games, providing steady offense. Matt Hussey (14-2-5-7), Matt Ellis (12-6-2-8) and Jeff Campbell (12-1-2-3) make up the second line, a speedy, two way line capable of scoring, but better at creating chances and energy. The third line also boasts some of the AHL's fastest skaters in Eric Himelfarb (14-2-4-6), Brendan Brooks (14-1-6-7) and Ryan Oulahen (14-2-0-2). This line excels at forechecking and cycling the puck deep, they have become very effective about shutting down the other teams big guns. Rookie Evan McGrath (10-0-0-0), Ryan Keller (12-4-1-5), Scott Barney (7-1-0-1) and Brock Radunske (5-1-0-1) fill out the fourth line to varying degrees of effectiveness.

DEFENSE - The team defense tightened up in December and the solid play of this group was a big part of that. Derek Meech and Kyle Quincey, often paired together, finished the month at a team worst 4, more a result of the amount of ice time they log than of poor play. Meech got a boost form his first NHL recall, doubling his season scoring totals after returning from Detroit. Danny Syvret was on the go in December, sandwiching 7 games with partner Dan Smith in between stints in Edmonton and with the Canadian National Team. The versatile Ericsson filled in on the second pairing in Syvret's absence, but generally played on the third pairing with Tom Galvin or Jon Insana. Veteran Brad Norton rounded out the third pairing in his place after returning form a back injury.

GOALTENDING - Stefan Liv returned from a stint in Toledo (ECHL), and seems to have found his game again. He posted a respectable 2-2 record with a 2.35 GAA and his first AHL shutout. This is not to say that he has completely overcome his rough start, but he has made some good progress. If you could take out two blowout losses to the Admirals, Jimmy Howard had a good month, but giving up 13 goals in just over a game and a half can't help your numbers. Howard continues to make good progress as he works towards an NHL job, and has played well more often than he hasn't.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Special team play continues to be the thorn in the side of the Griffins, they can't keep the puck out of their own net, or score when they have the advantage. The team currently sports the 21st rated powerplay in the AHL at an abysmal 15.1% (31 for 205) which is actually better at home than on the road where they are rated 24th out of 27 teams at just 12.7% (10 for 79). Miller leads the way with 8 powerplay tallies, followed by Langfeld and Ellis with 5 each. The blossoming Ericsson has 3 from the point. The penalty killing has been slightly better but very streaky, with an 82% overall rating (39 for 217) good for 16th. This is very misleading however, as they are the 21st rated unit at home at 81.3% (24 for 128). Matt Ellis is among the league leaders with two shorthanded goals, normally paired with Langfeld or Hussey.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Ericsson. Jonathan has proven to a versatile, skilled blueliner in his rookie season. December looked to be his coming out month as he scored 10 points in 14 games and raised his team leading +/- to +10. He logged more minutes in all situations in the absence of Syvret, and did not look out of place

ROOKIE WATCH - Liv had a bounce back month after a short stint in the ECHL, tripling his win total on the season. Ericsson posted 10 points in 14 games and a club leading +5 in December tied with defensive partner Tom Galvin. Galvin returned from an injury and played well before the numbers game forced him out of the lineup and eventually to Muskegon (UHL). Keller scored 4 goals and an assist on the month, playing on a variety of lines. Jeff Campbell slowed down a little in the scoring department, but still provided speed and a defensive presence. McGrath struggled and has been a non-factor most games, going scoreless in 10 games with only 3 shots on goal.

CURRENT INJURIES - Jimmy Howard - Ankle...

NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - D Danny Syvret Assigned by Edmonton (NHL)... G Stefan Liv Recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... G Logan Koopmans Assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... D Derek Meech Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Tom Galvin signed to SPC... Meech Re-Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Matt Ellis Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Danny Syvret Re-Assigned to Canadian National Team... Ellis Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Josh Langfeld Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... Langfeld Assigned by Detroit (NHL)...

KEY STATS -Howard is tied for 4th in shutouts with 2... Miller is tied for 9th with 24 assists and power play assists with 13... Bootland is 6th in penalty minutes with 117...

IN THE PIPELINE - Rookie Stephane Goulet, toiling for the Stockton Thunder (ECHL), has found the goals harder to come by as a pro, posting 9-3-2-5 totals for the month. Winger Mike Walsh continues to have a tough time adjusting to the ECHL, with only 4 points - all assists in 12 games in December. Netminder Logan Koopmans has been on the long-term injury list since being returned from Grand Rapids (AHL) and is expected to miss several months with a groin injury.

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids has a light schedule to start 2007, playing just 11 games. They open the month on a three game east coast road swing against Wilkes-Barre, Albany and Philadelphia before returning home for a three game home-stand featuring Peoria, Omaha, and a return bout with Wilkes-Barre. Then it's off for a two game series in Hamilton against the Bulldogs, followed by another 2 game series in Rochester against the always-tough Americans. The Griffins finish the month at home with a Saturday contest with the arch-rival Toronto Marlies.