Griffins First Half Report Cards|
Lackluster Start Leads To Lower Grades...
By Jason Kasiorek
Early returns are in for this year's edition of the Griffins, with several players rated as below average. If the season were to end today, the team would be on the outside looking in at the playoffs, making the low grades understandable. There have been a few bright spots, chief among them the play of towering defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and the emergence of Derek Meech. On the other side of the ledger, the struggles of Stefan Liv and Even McGrath have been well documented.
The Rating Scale:
A - Excellence
B - Above Average - Exceeds Expectations
C - Average - Meets Expectations
D - Below Average
F - Fail
Jonathan Ericsson: A
The biggest surprise of the first half has been the play of Ericsson. He started out the season playing a steady, responsible game in his own end. Over the next few weeks he added a physical element to his game using his 6'5 frame to full advantage. Lately he has turned up his offensive game, taking over the club lead among blueliners with a good shot from the point, and soft hands. He could shoot more as he is averaging just over a shot per game, but that will come with time. Jonathan recovers quickly and makes good decisions, leading to speculation about him auditioning for a job in Detroit next season.
Kip Miller: A
Many wondered how much Miller had left in the tank at 37 years old, but he quickly silenced his critics. Kip has been the team's offensive catalyst so far this season, leading in all scoring categories. A deft passer with excellent vision, Kip has jumpstarted everyone who has played on a line with him. Named Captain of the PlanetUSA All-Stars, Miller has been in and out of the league leaders in scoring in the first 40 games.
Josh Langfeld: A
Josh expected to make the wings out of camp, and spent the first part of the season trying to convince them of their mistake. A staple on Miller's wing, Langfeld has taken over the role filled last season by Nate DiCasmirro as an energy winger with a touch. Much like Ellis, Langfeld is always involved and hustling and is an integral part of the team's penalty killing unit.
Matt Ellis: A
The Griffins heart and soul for yet another season was rewarded for his great start with his first NHL recall, acquitting himself well in limited ice-time. Ellis continues to play at a high level, providing an example to his teammates with his hustle and work ethic. His scoring has picked up this season, and he should have a great second half, trying to lead his team to the playoffs.
Derek Meech: A-
After being a frequent target of the boo-birds at Van Andel Arena his first two seasons, "minus" Meech finally put it all together. Since being named an alternate captain, Derek proceeded to showcase a rock solid, physical, defensive game that earned him his first NHL recall, and just recently a spot in the AHL all-star game. His offense has just started to come back, indicating a strong second half for the young rearguard.
Danny Syvret: B+
Syvret has been a solid but unspectacular blueliner for the Griffins since the beginning of the season. He provided some offense and plays a steady, safe defensive game. Look for him to build on his recent call-up and stint in the Spengler Cup in the second half. A winner in Jr's, Syvret should be a key down the stretch.
Ryan Keller: B
Keller has made the most of his ice-time, working his way into the lineup as a regular after starting the season as on extra. He has proven GM Bob McNamara right by putting the puck in the net, but has also played well without the puck. Ryan will play the body and is strong on the forecheck where he causes turnovers.
Kyle Quincey: B
Kyle has had a pretty good first half, though consistency continues to be his biggest hurdle to overcome. He brings an exciting blend of physical play, speed, and offense, and when he's on he can be dominant. He has made good strides to cut down on the number of off nights, but is still trying to put it all together, not uncommon for a young defenseman.
Jeff Campbell: B-
The former MVP of the ECHL, Campbell has made the most of his tryout, playing in a variety of roles on the team before breaking out as a regular on Ellis' flank. The speedy forward is defensively responsible and has started to find his offensive touch recently.
Eric Himelfarb: B-
Eric got off to another slow start due partially to an injury, before remaking himself into a pesky defensive center. Maligned in the past for not using his world class skating to his advantage, Himelfarb has harnessed his speed and turned himself a cruise missile. He is a demon forechecker, who finishes his checks, and can capitalize on the turnovers he generates. His offensive game still has a bit to go, but he is on the right track for a successful season.
Jimmy Howard: C+
A streaky season so far for the future of the organization, Howard has had stretches where he was the difference and stretches where he struggled. Consistency is what he must work on in the second half to push for an NHL job next season. The skills are there, but he must bring the same approach day in and day out.
Jon Insana: C
Jon has played better than expected in this his third stint with the Griffins. He has improved defensively to not be a liability on the ice, and uses his speed and soft hands to move the puck up ice.
Ryan Oulahen: C
A good defensive forward with some speed, Ryan is coming along pretty well in his sophomore season. His offensive game was dormant for most of the first half, something that needs to pick up for him to take the next step. Oulahen also needs to work on his intensity and willingness to get involved and add some abrasiveness to his game.
Darryl Bootland: C
Booter is still struggling to find his role in the organization and on the team. Assigned to GR after a strong camp, Darryl got off to a slow start, and was surrounded by trade rumors. He rediscovered his touch around the net and potted several key goals to regain his spot in the lineup. Bootland needs to find his consistency and play with the same fire and discipline every night to attract NHL suitors for next season.
Brendan Brooks: C
One of the fastest skaters in the AHL, Brooks blazes around the ice in a blur of motion. The only problem is that he doesn't accomplish much other than that. He is very inconsistent in that you don't notice him very often. He is not a big hitter, and aside from his work on the PK is not particularly great defensively either. He needs to take a page from Himelfarb and get involved more often; use his speed to create turnovers and scoring plays.
Matt Hussey: C-
A lot more was expected from Hussey who was a huge part of the red-hot Wilkes-Barre Penguins last season. Hussey has looked out of place and until just recently, has not been contributing on the scoresheet. An offensive forward with good wheels, Matt must make more happen offensively, including using his linemate's better. It looked like he was snapping out of his funk the last week or so, and if he plays the way he is capable, it will be a big boost to the Griffins playoff hopes.
Dan Smith: C-
Much more was expected from Smith as a replacement for Helmer on the blueline. Never an offensive defenseman, Smith always put up at least reasonable numbers, but his touch has dried up this season. Defensively Dan has played OK, but not great, and he currently sports the clubs worst +/- rating. Now that the team is playing better together, look for his play to improve and his numbers will rise accordingly.
Brad Norton: C-
Hard to grade Norton based on his limited time in the lineup, but he has done little to distinguish himself either way. He has not been overly physical, but his presence has probably been a deterrent to other teams. He is not very gifted with the puck, and has a pretty tough first pass, which means he doesn't handle the puck much.
Brock Radunske: C-
A frequent scratch, Radunske plays spot minutes on the fourth line as he tries to pay his dues to become an AHL regular. Noted for a lack of consistent intensity, he has played well in spurts, but needs to step up his physical play in order to earn more ice time.
Stefan Liv: D+
Over hyped net minder was abysmal for much of the first half before a solid winning streak at the end. Liv still needs to improve in many areas to establish himself at this level.
Evan McGrath: F
A talented playmaking center with great vision, Evan has struggled in his first pro campaign. Too many games it looks like he is standing around watching, and he has not contributed in other areas on a regular basis. It appears that a trip to Toledo (ECHL) might be in order to restore his confidence and jump-start his game.
Scott Barney: F
Signed just before the start of the season, Scott was expected to provide a veteran presence, and some of the 30+ goals he scored for the Wolves last season. So far he has been a non-factor for the first half. When he is not scoring he doesn't do enough of the other little things well to justify his ice-time. If he does not regain his touch around the net, it may be time to pull the plug on this experiment.