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Griffins 2015-16 First Half Report Cards
Defense rules the rankings...
By Jason Kasiorek
February 1st, 2016

It is said the championships are won through great defense. If that is the case, the Griffins are well on their way to another long postseason, as the goaltender and and several defensive prospects are near the top of the grading scale. Netminder Jared Coreau has turned heads with a dominant start to the season, posting 20 wins to lead the league. Five of the top nine grades belong to blueliners, led by surprising rookie Robbie Russo, and another spot at the top belongs to defensive forward Louis-Marc Aubry. Rounding out the top ten are snipers Eric Tangradi, Martin Frk and Anthony Mantha.

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

Louis-Marc Aubry A
Aubry is enjoying a breakthrough season under coach Todd Nelson. He has already topped his career high for goals in a season, and is nearly at his points high water mark in just half a season. But the offense is only part of the story for the super-sized center as he excels in the other areas of the ice even more. Aside from being an ace in the faceoff circle (nearly 60%) he also uses his size, speed and surprising soft hands to frustrate the opponents with big hits and the ability to cycle the puck. He has played his way back into the prospect picture with Detroit and is awaiting his first NHL recall.

Eric Tangradi A
A change in philosophy this season for Tangradi has paid dividends as he got off to a hot start and led the club in scoring during the first half. The 6'4 gritty winger has been one of the most consistent scoring threats on the teams and his strong play has already earned him a pair of NHL recalls. Not afraid to use his size or drop his gloves, Tangradi as been among the AHL's top power forwards, and his 16 goals were tied for fifth in the league.

Jared Coreau A
Coreau started the season as the backup to incumbent Thomas McCollum and then went on a tear, riding an 11 game winning streak to the top of the AHL leaderboard with 20 wins at the half. He also ranked in the top 3 in Save% (.931, 2nd), GAA (2.27 3rd), Saves (814 1st) and minutes played (1681:09) among AHL netminders. A strong second half from the acrobatic goaltender could see him staring down the club record of 34 wins in a season.

Martin Frk A
For a guy who spent large portions of the last two seasons in the ECHL or a healthy scratch, not much was expected from martin Frk heading into his third pro season. It took him a few games to find a regular spot in the lineup, but once he did, he brought the elite wrist shot and one-timer that terrorized opposing goalies in the QMJHL. With 14 goals in 29 games, Frk was on a 40 goal pace, and had already scored more than his career numbers before this season. While he still has some work to do with his play away from the puck, he has greatly exceeded expectations in the first half.

Andreas Athanasiou A-
The slick speedster got off to a slow start (as did most of the offense), but caught fire after a stint in the NHL, scoring 14 points in 13 games before being felled by a knee injury. When he is healthy and on top of his game, he dictates the pace and can embarrass defenders with his speed and hands. He is dangerous on the penalty kill where he can use the extra space to his advantage and is adept at picking the opposing players pockets and creating turnovers. Staying healthy and consistency are the challenges facing him in the second half.

Robbie Russo A-
Russo took advantage of Marchenko's graduation to the NHL to claim a regular spot in the rotation and has been head and shoulders above where what you would expect from a rookie blueliner. He has contributed offensively as his 18 points paces the clubs rearguards, but has also been solid defensively, playing a regular shift and seeing time on special teams. Russo also leads all rookies and is second in the AHL in +/- at +23.

Brian Lashoff B+
Perhaps the Griffins best defensive defenseman, Lashoff has had a solid first half. He has provided his trademark airtight defense despite routinely being paired with lesser defensively sound partners. The gritty stay at home defender rarely makes a mistake and when he does, uses his above average vision and anticipation to recover. One of the few Griffins defenseman who plays a physical game, Lashoff is also a key member of the penalty kill.

Nick Jensen B
The smooth skating defender has been the anchor of the Griffins defense the first half of the season. He plays key minutes on the penalty kill and is out in the last minute of the game and key defensive situations. Though he will never be a bruiser, he has enhanced the physical dimension in his game and is rock solid defensively. The only thing that kept him from an A is the dramatic falloff in his offensive numbers from last season, perplexing for someone who handles the puck so well. His NHL debut is the logical next step in the second half.

Nathan Paetsch B
Paetsch is off to another good start, showing no signs of slowing down in his 4th season in Grand Rapids. He logs a ton of minutes in all situations and has played as part of a shut down pairing with Nick Jensen this season. While he is solid in all three zones, he excels at breaking the puck out of the defensive end and is a key to the Griffins transition game.

Ryan Sproul B
Sproul is very much a player in transition. His defensive game has been much improved this season to the point where he is no longer a liability. His offensive game missing the last season and a half has shown glimpses of returning and he has used his size much more effectively. He still needs to find and use his blistering slapper on a more consistent basis, but that has been AWOL for the most part since breaking teammate Mitch Callahan's Jaw with a shot two seasons ago. Under coach Nelson's tutelage he appears to be trending up again and needs to keep it up in the second half.

Anthony Mantha B
By almost any measure, Mantha's game is greatly improved over last season. Offensively he has almost matched last season's totals already with 11 goals and 25 points in 33 games. But it is in other areas where he has really shined as his compete level and intensity have really ramped up. He is much harder to play against and much more dangerous as he uses his speed and size to create scoring chances. While he still has things to work on, including his consistency, he has been an impact player at times in the first half for Grand Rapids.

Colin Campbell B
After an abysmal season last year, Campbell was in the mix to start the season in Toledo (ECHL) and even surrendered his sweater number. He took advantage of his opportunities and has gotten off to a surprising start, scoring 7 goals and providing a spark from the fourth line. Colin looks like a completely different player this season as his physical play and compete level are apparent every shift. It remains to be seen whether he can keep it up over the second half, but if he can, he will put himself back on the Wings' radar.

Andy Miele B
Last Season, Miele got off to a slow start because of a training camp injury and then was one of the hottest players in the AHL for the rest of the season. This year he has been good, but has not quite been the same impact player. He remains a sublimely talented player who can do things with the puck that few others can. Andy plays an agitating game and is a lightning rod for opposing players who get off their game chasing him around, take a bad penalty and then he scores on the powerplay. Here's hoping that the return of Mitch Callahan and the continued emergence of Martin Frk will lead to a big second half for Miele.

Xavier Ouellet B
A solid two-way defenseman, Ouellet does everything well, but no area of his game stands out except his thought process. He brings a little bit of everything, a strong puck mover, capable of working the point on the powerplay, can play physical and make plays in his own zone. In most organizations he would already be playing the NHL, but with the depth of the Red Wings he is on the outside looking in. That knowledge is sometimes his downfall as he can be guilty of trying to do too much which leads to mistakes. At the halfway mark he has almost matched his career high offensive totals, and the NHL awaits, either in Detroit or elsewhere.

Mitch Callahan B-
If it weren't for bad luck, Callahan wouldn't have any. The gritty forward has suffered through his third major injury in three season, missing time with a broken jaw. When he is on the ice he is an opportunistic scorer who is not afraid to take up position in front of the net and take punishment. Even when he is not scoring he is defensively responsible and is a demon on the forecheck, driving opponent to distraction. A return to health in the second half would be just what the doctor ordered for this character player.

Mark Zengerle C
Zengerle has had an up and down season with a productive stretch sandwiched between a pair of epic slumps. When he is on top of his game, Zengerle has tremendous vision and can thread a needle with the puck. He plays with more grit then his small stature would indicate, and will take a hit to make a play. With points in only 16 of the 35 games he has played in and averaging just one shot on goal per game he has lots of room for improvement in the second half.

Jeff Hoggan C
The team's heart and soul, the captain has not lost a step and continues to be the leader on and off the ice. He may not be putting up the same offensive numbers, but he is being tasked with a different role on this year's team. He has anchored the fourth line; arguably the most consistent line in the first half, with his energy and speed. Hoggan capped off a successful first half with a trip to the AHL all-star game, appropriately as captain of the Western Conference All-star team.

Tyler Bertuzzi C
After an impressive showing in the playoffs last year, Bertuzzi found it much tougher going to start the regular season. He couldn't get untracked on the scoresheet, going 17 games before finding the back of the net. His physical play also crossed the line, leading to a suspension and a stint in the coach's doghouse. He eventually worked his way out it and has become a steady contributor at both ends of the ice. His speed and anticipation make him a great forechecker, and he excels at breaking up plays and getting in the way of passes and shots.

Tomas Nosek C+
Nosek is the kind of player that always leaves you wanting more. When you watch him play, he thinks the game in a different speed, at a different level and is capable of performing jaw-dropping moves with the puck. But at the end of the day from an offensive standpoint his numbers are rather pedestrian. His saving grace however is his defensive game, which harnesses those skills to breakup plays; pickoffs passes and fuel the Grand Rapids counterattack. It was his defensive prowess that led to his first NHL recall and a six game audition with the parent Wings.

Joel Rechlicz C
Rechlicz has done an admirable job in a very difficult role. Brought in on a tryout during camp to bring a veteran physical presence to the lineup to fill the void left by Evans and Grant, he has spent more time in the press box than on the bench, only getting into 6 games. He has remained a positive presence through trying times.

Thomas McCollum C-
The veteran netminder did not have the first half he wanted, and after struggling through inconsistent play and injuries, appears to have lost his starters job to Jared Coreau. He opened the season with five straight losses, and has not looked like himself, sporting his highest GAA and SV% in 4 seasons. While he has not been as bead as the numbers show, he has also not done much to engender confidence teammates. The team needs him to rebound in the second half and down the stretch.

Dan Cleary D
For all of the work ethic and perseverance that Dan Cleary has on his resume, the on-ice product this season has been less then stellar. It took him several games to find his legs, though he still was laboring to keep up. His hands do not resemble the hands of a former 20-goal scorer any longer. The one thing he had going for him was his anticipation and experience, making him somewhat useful in a defensive role. A knee injury suffered around Christmas sidelined him for over a month and it remains to be seen how or when he will come back.

Jakub Kindl D
Kindl was not that great a defenseman the last time he was a member of the Griffins, and despite several seasons in the NHL, it does not appear that much has changed. On the surface he appears to have all of the tools to be an impact defenseman, but his thought process seems to lag behind, leading to too many mistakes. At this stage in his career it is doubtful he will fulfill his promise in this organization (if at all).

Jake Paterson Inc.
Paterson only saw one game while backing up Jared Coreau with McCollum on the sidelines. He played very well for the first half and then surrendered four straight goals to lose his first AHL start. He should have more of a chance to show what he is capable of next season.

Scott Czarnowczan Inc.
Czarnowczan was resigned late last season with the expectation of playing in RG more regular this year. The signing of Robbie Russo changed those plans, and the mobile blueliner has spent most of the season in Toledo (ECHL). He came up for a weekend when injuries struck and was one of the better defenseman on the ice for Grand Rapids. All he needs now is a spot as he has shown he can play at the AHL level.

Triston Grant Inc.
A combination of injuries and an overflow of veterans have combined to make Grant a non-factor on the ice this season. It will be difficult for the physical veteran to overcome either of those in the second half.