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Grand Rapids Griffins 2011-12 First Half Report Cards
Veterans taking the lead...
By Jason Kasiorek
January 31, 2012

After a couple of seasons of diminishing returns, the organization finally got it right with the team's veteran leadership leading the way on and off the scoreboard. Chris Conner, Doug Janik, Garnet Exelby, Jamie Johnson and Joey MacDonald have been the team's best players most nights. They have had help from a supporting cast of developing players like Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith, Willie Coetzee and Bryan Lashoff, as well as a crop of rookies headlined by Gustav Nyquist, Landon Ferraro and Louis-Marc Aubry. And while the team may have underachieved in the first half, there is hope for improvement in the second.

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

Chris Conner A
Conner has given everything he has every shift since the beginning of the season and has been rewarded with some NHL time in Detroit. He may be the teamís most consistent offensive player, but brings so much more to the table with his skating and aggressive forechecking. He provides leadership on and off the ice and is a great role model for the younger players in the organization with his work ethic.

Doug Janik A
Janik has become one of the cornerstones of this team with his consistent level of play and professionalism. He is an ace defensively, leading the team at +16, but is a scoring threat as well, one point behind Smith for defense leader. He gives you everything he has every night and keeps the other team honest with his calm demeanor on the ice. Some nights you donít notice him because he rarely makes a mistake that he canít recover from. Hopefully the organization is already working on getting his name on a new contract to keep this valuable defender around.

Gustav Nyquist A
Nyquist is one of the most impressive rookies in the AHL this season and is a dazzling offensive player to watch on the ice. He has a stunning array of creativity and on ice vision, and makes everything look so easy. At times it looks to easy as he doesnít look to be playing with a lot of intensity or competing hard. He has already had a couple of games at the NHL level and needs to get stronger to earn a full time spot in the Detroit lineup.

Joey MacDonald A-
MacDonald had a great start before being bowled over in the crease and sidelined with a concussion. He eventually returned and after a couple of games to get back on track, has been phenomenal. He keeps this team in games they shouldnít be in with his aggressive play and makes the stops he has to. If he can stay healthy the second half, look for MacDonald to climb back into the spot he was in before the injury, among the league leaders.

Tomas Tatar A-
After a solid year last season, expectations were placed on Tatar that proved to be too much for the 21 yr old winger. The result was a frustrating start as Tomas got down on himself. He eventually rebounded, and has posted numbers at the point per game pace since then. He is a quiet scorer, and so far has not translated his speed and skill to become a game-breaker at this level, a role he may grow into. Tatar needs to work on going to the net more and bringing a consistent effort every game, but is well on his way there.

Jamie Johnson A-
Last season was a nightmare for Johnson who posted one of his worst seasons as a pro. He has rebounded in the first half, already scoring more goals than he did all last season. The talented center has also added a measure of grit to his game which seems to be serving him well as he sets up around the net.

Joakim Andersson B+
Andersson has always had the size and physical maturity, but some questioned his skating and offensive ability. So far this season he has silenced doubters on one score as his offensive game has come on line with 10 goals and 11 assists already meeting or exceeding last seasonís totals. He is defensively sound, uses his large frame well, and is not afraid of the rough stuff. The only thing separating him from the NHL is his skating which though improved, still needs some work.

Landon Ferraro B+
Finally recovered form a couple of injury plagued years of junior hockey after being drafted, Ferraro has been a quietly impressive rookie for Grand Rapids this season, overshadowed by Nyquistís offensive exploits. The speedy center already has a pro-style complete game and does a lot of the little things you need to do to win. One of the Griffins best penalty killers, Ferraro has a lot of intensity and a high compete level to go with rink-wide speed and good on-ice vision. He has shown a scoring touch in spurts and should just continue to improve in the second half.

Garnet Exelby B
The captain has filled the bill this season, providing leadership and a physical defensive presence this team has not seen in a long time. He clears the crease with authority and is not afraid to drop the gloves with anyone to stick up for his teammates. He logs a ton of minutes often paired with the teamís weakest blueliner, and is a staple on the penalty kill. His Achilles heal is his temper, which gets the best of him at times, causing him to boil over and take bad penalties that generally cost his team on the scoreboard.

Fabian Brunnstrom B-
While his scoring (11 points in 15 games) has not quite been at the level expected of such an offensive talent, the rest of Brunnstromís game has far exceeded expectations. He is a smooth, fast skater that seems to always be where he supposed to be on the ice, at both ends. He is defensively responsible and can make jaw dropping moves with the puck, spinning around players to go to the net. He has also been the most snakebit forward on the team this season, seemingly unable to get the puck into the back of the net, hopefully that changes in the second half.

Thomas McCollum B-
It was not surprising that after last yearís abysmal performance, that McCollum would start this year in the ECHL. What was surprising however was his strong stretch of play after being recalled to replace first MacDonald and then Jordan Pearce while they were on the injured list. The third year netminder turned in his best stretch as a pro, winning five straight starts before falling back to earth with a pair of stinkers. The second half is crucial for McCollum who is in the last year of his contract and trying to hold off Pearce and talented Jr Mrazek.

Willie Coetzee C+
Coetzee has bounced around the lineup this season, as coach Fraser tries to find the right fit for him. He is a streaky sniper with great wheels and a wicked quick release that surprises goalies, and has scored 9 goals in the first half. Watching Coetzee play, it is obvious that he is very skilled and has some great moves, but like a lot of young players, needs to get stronger and more consistent to be a constant threat.

Brent Raedeke C+
Raedeke does a lot of things well, but not the kind of things that end up on the score sheet very often. He is an incredibly fast and agile skater and sees the ice well, which fuels his defensive game. His intensity could use some work and his lack of offense is a question mark as well, but in that regard, he has already tied last seasonís number with half a season to go. He will have to keep improving in the second half to stay ahead of Aubry and Ferraro for ice time.

Brian Lashoff C+
Lashoff lost most of last season to injury, and it took him awhile this season to find his bearings. But when he did, he rocketed up the depth chart with his solid play. A regular on the penalty killing unit, Brian has also been seeing some significant time on the power play, where his booming point shot has started finding the back of the net. The hulking rearguard uses his size and strength well and is a willing shot blocker. Look for him to have a strong second half and lead the blueline in goals.

Sebastien Piche C+
For a guy that was told he was going back to Toledo, Piche took advantage of injuries, suspensions and recalls to carve a place out of the lineup. The former Quebec league scoring star has concentrated on his own end of the ice and is an irritant to other teams in the Kirk Maltby mode. He has also shown his gritty side and isnít afraid to drop the gloves. It should be interesting to see where he fits with Ehrhardtís return.

Louis-Marc Aubry C
Aubry has played well in spurts, mostly centering one of the bottom two lines, using his size and speed in a defensive role. He has earned more ice time as the season went on, and even saw some time on a scoring line where he had his first multiple-point game in the AHL. The lanky center seems to be making the adjustment to the pro game, and with a little more muscle mass, should put up some big points in the future.

Mitchell Callahan C-
Callahan started the season trying to fight everybody in the AHL before settling down and showing off some decent skills. He can skate, hit and sees the ice well, and has earned a spot on the penalty kill where he does a good job. He uses his size and speed well, winning battles in the corner and along the boards, and has shown soft enough hands to work the cycle and keep the puck deep in the offensive zone. His game has a ways to go, but he seems to be learning and is not a liability in the lineup.

Brendan Smith C-
Smith may be the organizations top prospect, but you wouldnít know it to watch him very often this season. He sulked his way through the first part of the schedule, made his NHL debut and then played well for a stretch before drifting off again. It is apparent that he has NHL caliber skills and physical attributes, but consistency and desire might be two things he should work on in the second half.

Trevor Parkes D+
Parkes has been in and out of the lineup this season, and except for a brief stint on a line with fellow rookies Aubry and Callahan, has not done much to stay in the lineup. He played well defensively on a speedy, physical fore-checking line for awhile, but his lack of offense has not been enough to get him regular playing time. His size and work ethic are plusses, but some time in Toledo in the second half may be just what the doctor ordered.

Frankie Pare D+
Pare needed a strong start this season, but the streaky sniper started out ice cold, and has not been as effective this season as in the past. For an offensive player that gets as much ice time as he does, 6 goals are just not enough. He normally catches fire in the second half, and needs to do that, although his time as a Wings prospect may be just about at an end.

Logan Pyett D+
Coming back for his 4th season in the organization, a lot was expected of Pyett. Unfortunately his development has stalled and instead of taking the next step, he has regressed. After scoring 9 goals in each of the last 2 season, his offense has dried up with just 1 goal in the first half. His defensive game is not at the level you would expect, and he may start having a hard time getting top four ice time the second half. Pyett has his work cut out for him to salvage this season and keep the NHL on his radar screen.

Jordan Pearce D
Pearce got off to a bad start this season and stumbled under the weight of high expectations in the first half. In a reversal of last season, he lost ground to McCollum before finally going out of the lineup with an injury. No word yet on when he will return, but he needs a bounce back second half to stay on the radar and out of the ECHL.

Travis Ehrhardt Inc.
Ehrhardt missed most of the first half with a shoulder injury, but has been impressive defensively when he has played.

Chris Minard Inc.
Minard has been very impressive with two goals in two games since returning from concussion issues that have kept him out most of the season.

Mike Thomas Inc.
The newest member of the Griffins has only appeared in one game, so it is too early to give him a grade.