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Season of Change Begins For Griffins
An early look at the composition of the 2018-19 roster...
By Jason Kasiorek
May 4th, 2018

Watching the team gather at center ice after the final buzzer of the 2017-18 season, it occurred to me we have seen the last of several of these players as sweeping changes will happen over the summer. Change is a fact of life at the AHL level, but this summer will probably signal a larger change than normal for the Griffins. This will likely start at the top with Griffins head Coach Todd Nelson. It is no secret that after several very successful seasons in the AHL, Nelly is looking for a return to the big leagues, and his name has been rumored with several coaching vacancies over the last two off-seasons. If he doesn't find the right fit, he is still under contract for another two seasons, but his return is anything but a sure bet.

The only forwards currently under contract for the 2018-19 season are Dom Turgeon, Axel Holmstrom, Colin Campbell, Evgeny Svechnikov, Dylan Sadowy and Trevor Yates. Givani Smith and Christoffer Ehn are expected to join the Griffins next season and David Pope if he is signed before the deadline. Turgeon has a pretty good shot of making the Wings next season provided he is completely recovered from Thoracic Compartment Syndrome corrective surgery that cost him the end of the season. Svechnikov did not have a good year in almost any aspect and will need to rebound in a big way to avoid being labeled a bust. Sadowy is still looking to find traction at the AHL level after spending most of the season in the ECHL. Free agent Yates got into two games at the end of the season on a tryout, and could be earmarked for Toledo next season. Ehn was assigned to the Griffins just before the playoffs, but was subsequently diagnosed with mono and sent home. Pope is a darkhorse as he needs to be signed by 8/15 or he becomes a free agent. The 6'3 winger had an impressive collegiate career and is thought to be ready to compete for a spot in Detroit in training camp this fall.

If the Red Wings follow their normal pattern and re-sign their restricted free agents, there are three skaters up front that could help Grand Rapids in Matt Lorito, Matt Puempel and Zach Nastasiuk. Lorito will be coming off knee surgery that cost him the end of the season and Puempel was also hobbled a bit late, but both add scoring punch to the lineup. Nastasiuk really came into his own late in the season and into the playoffs as he looks to have finally recovered from the serious concussion he suffered two seasons ago. He was a physical force at times in the postseason and could finally make the jump to the AHL full time.

Barring an unlikely change of heart or an offer they can't refuse, the Griffins will lose UFA's Eric Tangradi and Ben Street, both of whom will be looking for another kick at the NHL. Fellow UFA's Turner Elson and Corey Elkins could garner new contracts for next season but it is far from guaranteed. Captain Matt Ford is perhaps the most likely of the unrestricted free agents to return, something that would be helped by the return of his coach. Dominik Shine played well enough to be brought back on an AHL deal. Luke Esposito and Mike Borkowski could be depth AHL signings to bolster the Walleye lineup.

The defense looks much more static with Brian Lashoff, Dylan McIlrath, Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek, Vili Saarijarvi, Libor Sulak and Robbie Russo under contract. Dennis Cholowski graduates to the pro ranks next season and will grab a spot on the blueline while Free agents Trevor Hamilton and Marcus Crawford are likely earmarked for Toledo. Depending on what happens in Detroit one or both of Joe Hicketts and Hronek could get a shot at the blueline in Detroit. Expect Saarijarvi and Cholowski to get more playing time this season and Sulak showed he belonged in a late season audition.

The crowded blueline could mean that the much maligned Robbie Russo could be moved in the offseason to make room for more promising prospects. Restricted free agent Dan Renouf is also another player in the mix as he is likely to be re-signed to be a physical presence on the Griffins back end. Patrick McCarron and Kevin Tansey are the Griffins Unrestricted Free Agents on the backend, but both spent the majority of the season in the ECHL and probably won't impact the AHL lineup. Unsigned draft pick Jordan Sambrook may be added to the mix if the club signs him following the conclusion of the memorial cup tournament.

The only netminder in the organization, besides Howard, who is signed for next season is rookie Kaden Fulcher who is expected to turn pro next season, and could end up in GR. Matej Machovsky is the lone restricted free agent, but may have burned his bridges after declining an assignment to Toledo when Coreau came back down. He was subsequently sent back to Europe. Jared Coreau has been informed the organization no longer has plans for him at the NHL. While this does not preclude him being re-signed at the AHL level, it would not be surprising to see him move on to get another chance at the big leagues. If this happens, it makes the return of Thomas McCollum more likely, but not guaranteed. With the parent club searching for a backup, it may place a greater emphasis on having an NHL ready netminder on call in Grand Rapids.

The Red Wings will likely resign most if not all of their RFA's, but are expected to lose several of the veterans in the Tangradi, Street, Ford, and Elkins grouping.

The organization has been very short sighted as of late when it comes to the veterans supporting the development of their model AHL franchise. The Griffins have been fortunate to have a great crop of veteran leaders who have played at all-star levels while fostering a winning atmosphere and mentoring the younger prospects. Most of those vets were attracted with the promise of an opportunity to get a look at the NHL level. This season despite the lack of talent in the parent club and plenty of opportunity due to injury, none of those players were recalled. This will likely cost us the services of Tangradi and Street who will move on to another organization and another NHL opportunity. While those players are not stars at the NHL level, they are at the AHL level and they certainly could not have played any worse than some of the players dressed by Detroit this season. It will become difficult for the Wings to attract quality veterans for their AHL club. Unfortunately for the Griffins, this appears to be by design, as they have publicly stated that they will be moving away from veterans as they move more draft choices into the system.