Griffins First Half Report Cards|
And the youth shall lead...
By Jason Kasiorek
Seven of the Griffin's top players in the first half of the season have played less than two seasons in the AHL, giving a glimpse of a bright future in the organization. With Grand Rapids tied for first place in the North Division and Western Conference and one point out of first overall, Coach Fraser has done a masterful job of putting this franchise back on the right path after a train wreck last season. AHL All-stars Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Ericsson have taken a step back but have been replaced by Jakub Kindl and Daniel Larsson, named to represent the club this season.
These are the Griffins' first half grades:
The Rating Scale:
A - Excellence
B - Above Average - Exceeds Expectations
C - Average - Meets Expectations
D - Below Average
F - Fail
Daniel Larsson A
To say that the first year netminder has made a successful jump to North America is an understatement. All Larsson has done is win in convincing fashion, outplaying battery mate Jimmy Howard, by notching 14 wins and 5 shutouts in 19 decisions. Extremely confident and seemingly unflappable, Daniel ranks among the league leaders in wins, goals against average, shutouts and save percentage. Named to the PlanetUSA all-star team, Larsson would have to be a strong candidate for Griffins first half MVP.
Landon Wilson A
Wilson was the team's best player the first 15 games of the season. He did it all, scoring goals, providing grit, dropping the gloves and most importantly instilling a locker room swagger that carrier over onto the ice. The happy-to-be-here veteran was rewarded with a recall to Dallas where he has become a permanent fixture.
Francis Pare A
After an impressive training camp Pare was told not to get a place in GR because he might not be staying. The former QMJHL MVP took advantage of every opportunity and has just kept scoring, making it impossible to remove him from the lineup. The catalyst on a line with Lemieux and McGrath, Pare has been arguably the Griffins hottest offensive player the first half. Frankie plays well in all zones and has a knack for getting open where he uses his tremendously quick release to get an accurate shot off.
Justin Abdelkader A-
Abby got off to a great start, leading the league in rookie scoring the first month and playing a gritty, physical two-way game. It wasn't a huge surprise that his scoring fell off a bit as the season wore on. The biggest reason being the adjustment to the pace of the 80 game pro season from the 40 game collegiate seasons he was used to. The rest of his game, however, has exceeded the high expectations foisted upon him. Justin is physically mature and plays a hard game with great intensity and energy. He is responsible defensively and has the capability to be a game changing player.
Mattias Ritola B+
What a difference a year makes. Ritola has used his experience to become an impact player, leading the team in goals with 15, already more than twice what he scored all last season. The smooth skating winger is a force at both ends of the ice and is built solidly enough to give or take a check. He had a little scoring drought in November (he wasn't alone there) but has bounced back nicely.
Ville Leino B+
Leino was anointed NHL ready at the end of training camp, and started out the season proving that that was an accurate statement. The talented Finn ran into some troubles in the middle of the half, as he tried to adjust to the smaller ice and more physical nature of the North American game that left him tired and worn down. He recovered fairly quickly and started to show off his dominant puck handling skills again. Ville has led the club in scoring all season and truly has world class offensive moves. When he will have an opportunity to show those in Detroit is anyone's guess.
Sergei Kolosov B+
Signed as an afterthought at the recommendation of Coach Fraser, expectations were low for the hulking Belarusian defenseman. After a rocky start, Kolosov has improved rapidly under the tutelage of the Griffins coaching staff to become a regular in the lineup; even unseating highly touted prospect Logan Pyett. While he still has some improving to do before he has an NHL future, he has made great strides in his intensity, competitiveness and defensive play.
Jakub Kindl B
Kindl rebounded from an abysmal rookie season to become one of the top blueliners on the team. His offensive game has come online faster than expected and he ranks fourth in the league in scoring with 25 points, earning him an all-star game starting nod. He routinely mans the point on the #1 powerplay unit and shows off his low, hard point shot which he can get away quickly. His play without the puck had shown much improvement until recently when he started to backslide to a defensive corps worst -9. If he can tighten his play back up and have a strong second half, the future will look bright for Jakub.
Francis Lemieux B-
Frankie couldn't catch a break at the beginning of the season, sitting out 14 of the club's first 24 games, and not making much of an impact in the ones he did play. But the grinding winger just kept working hard and eventually was rewarded. He meshed well with rookie Frankie Pare, and ripped off a hot streak, posting 11 points in 10 games including his first career hat trick. Scoring at this level is a bonus for Lemieux who has a lot of Matt Ellis hustle and work ethic in him and plays an energetic two way game.
Ryan Oulahen B-
Always a solid defensive forward, Oulahen has stepped it up another notch this season, adding some grit to his game and even playing with an edge some nights. His offensive numbers are about where they normally are, but he has about twice as many goals as usual. Ryan provides versatility, playing all 3 forward positions in any role, and even suited up for a surprisingly effective game on the blueline earlier in the season.
Evan McGrath B-
McGrath has seen quite a turnaround in his fortunes this season. After finishing last season on a tear, big things were expected from the third year center, but instead he found himself a regular scratch to start the year. A switch to the wing, a new found work ethic, and some luck being paired with the two Frankie's have all parlayed into the best stretch of his pro career. Evan has upped his intensity and competes every night, both things he was knocked for earlier in his career.
Jason Jozsa C+
A depth defenseman heading into camp, Jozsa impressed Coach Fraser enough to earn semi-regular ice time. Used in place of struggling rookies or injured vets, Jason played well in spurts as a safe reliable blueliner with a good first pass up ice. The smooth skating rearguard was only a minus player 3 times in 23 games.
Darren Helm C+
Helm started out the season on a tear, notching 18 points in his first 15 games sandwiched around a pair of recalls to Detroit. Then his offense started to sputter and eventually the rest of his game seemed to lack the same urgency and intensity as his impact lessened. Lately playing in a more defensive role, Darren has been mostly unnoticeable and really needs to step things up the second half.
Aaron Downey C+
Downey struggled after being sent down, both on the ice, and with the prospect of playing in the AHL. After some soul searching he settled in and has played well in an energy role. He will never be mistaken for a scorer, but is an effective forechecker and a physical presence. Perhaps one of his biggest additions to the team is in the locker room and on the bench where his Stanley Cup ring and NHL experience make him a well respected voice.
Garrett Stafford C
Garrett has played as expected so far this season, solid but not spectacular. He has run the point on the powerplay and been a good partner for Kolosov, playing reasonably well at both ends of the ice. The problem is that he always seems to leave you expecting more, especially after last season's red-hot second half.
Cory Emmerton C
Emmerton has had an up and down first half as he adjusts to the pro game. After a slow start, the freshman pivot ripped off a torrid stretch of 13 points in 15 games before slowing down again. When his offense dried up, the rest of his game seemed to fall off as well, leading to him sitting out a few nights. He needs to work on his intensity and consistency, but is about where expected.
Jimmy Howard C-
Howard was supposed to come in this season, fresh on the heels of the disappointment of losing the back job in Detroit to Ty Conklin, start 65-70 games and once and for all prove he is the man for the job. Things haven't gone according to plan for Jimmy as inconsistent play and a phenomenal start by backup Daniel Larsson have cast his future in doubt. Howard has played well in stretches this season, but has not been able to put a solid run together to quiet the growing number of nay-sayers. The team appears to play better for Larsson, leading to the observation that the fourth year goaltender needs to have a strong second half to win his team back over and keep his Detroit hopes alive.
Tom Galvin C-
Tom has proven his doubters wrong every step of the way to secure a spot in the AHL with his strong positional defensive play. This season the magic has not been there, and he has not played to his usual standards. Galvin tried to be more offensively involved during the early going, which came with mixed results, and he has spent the last few weeks paired with Kindl which can be an adventure.
Jonathan Ericsson C-
After a dominant year in the AHL, Ericsson was being touted as NHL ready. His strong play, size and story (last pick in the draft) made him an intriguing prospect, and he was expected to tear up the minors while he waited for a spot to open up in Detroit. Instead he coasted through the first few months of the season, displaying little intensity, before being injured. He has ramped up his play since returning, but has some work to do before regaining all-star form.
Darren Haydar C-
Former AHL MVP Haydar was brought in to provide winning leadership in the room and scoring prowess on the ice. So far the results are mixed as the veteran has battled through personal issues and inconsistency. He is on pace for one of his lowest scoring season's as a pro, and sports a team worst -13 defensive rating.
Jamie Tardif C-
There were high hopes for Jamie as he was signed to his first NHL contract over the off-season after toiling on AHL contracts the last few years. But for whatever reason the gritty winger struggled to start the season, even losing his spot in the lineup at one point. He has stepped up his play at both ends of the ice, but has not been able to rekindle his offense consistently.
Aaron Gagnon C-
Gagnon was one of the rotation of regular scratches the first half, and seemed to play OK in spurts when in the lineup. A serviceable defensive forward, Aaron has not displayed the grit or consistency to lock down a spot despite a few solid games.
Logan Pyett D+
Logan had a rocky reception to the pro ranks, and soon played himself out of the lineup. His top-flight offensive game has deserted him somewhere between Regina and Grand Rapids, and until the last stretch, his defensive game hadn't adjusted to the speed or size of the pro game. After some time being tutored by Jimmy Paek after practice, Pyett looked to be improving the last 10 games or so.
Jan Mursak F
Mursak was expected to make a speedier adjustment to the pro game than he has. It is obvious he has the talent and speed to play here, but so far the results have been missing. A confidence building trip to the ECHL would probably be the best thing for him to start the second half.
P.J. Atherton Inc.
A favorite of the coaching staff during training camp, Atherton found himself the victim of the numbers game when he was unable to unseat Galvin or Jozsa for regular ice time. He hasn't had much of an opportunity, but hasn't shown much to earn a longer look either.