Griffins Second Half Report Cards
Player development back on track...
By Jason Kasiorek
It was mission accomplished for the Grand Rapids Griffins this season, at least in the eyes of the parent Detroit Red Wings. The Wings wanted a competitive farm team that would develop young players, pushing out NHL parts with a side of playoff seasoning. That is exactly what coach Fraser delivered, getting his underdog team to the second round, and pushing a number of prospects to the forefront as future NHL'ers. Ace blueliner Jonathan Ericsson and Darren Helm have already made the jump, with rookie phenom Justin Abdelkader, puck-wizard Ville Leino and backstop Jimmy Howard not far behind. The next batch is already on the way, with Brian Lashoff, Sergei Kolosov, Frankie Pare and Daniel Larsson turning some heads.
These are the Griffins' second half grades from game 41 through the end of the playoffs:
The Rating Scale:
A - Excellence
B - Above Average - Exceeds Expectations
C - Average - Meets Expectations
D - Below Average - Below Expectations
F - Fail
Justin Abdelkader A
Abdelkader continued his rapid rise to the top of the heap with a physically dominant second half. His game continued to improve into the playoffs where he scored 6 goals in 6 games to lead the league through the first round. At times he was a physical force that controlled the pace of the game, and at others he was an offense presence, capable of being a game breaker. His off nights were far and few between and he became a leader on the ice, playing in all situations. The only notable dent in his game is that his intensity level sometimes leads to bad penalties.
Brian Lashoff A
The surprise of the prospects tournament last fall, Lashoff joined the Griffins roster at the conclusion of his junior season this spring, presumably for a little experience at the pro level. Instead, he stepped up in the absence of Jonathan Ericsson and became arguably the team's best defender during the latter portion of the season. Unfortunately he finished the playoffs on the sidelines, the victim of a concussion suffered in the Manitoba series. A mobile blueliner with very good instincts, he never missed a step, notching almost a point per game, quarterbacking the powerplay, and playing in all-important situations. Even though he must return to the OHL next season, Brian has served notice that he is a player, and has begun his move up the depth chart.
Ryan Oulahen A-
Oulahen has done all he can at the AHL level, and the next logical step is to see whether he can play in the NHL. He listened to the Wings and added some snarl to his already defensively responsible game. The result was an increase in offense as he just missed his first 20-goal season, a mark he surely would have reached if not for his season ending dislocated hip. He is expected to make a complete recovery, and should earn a new contract from Detroit (NHL). His return is uncertain however, as he will have to pass through waivers before being assigned to GR and another NHL team may take a chance on the 24-year-old center.
Francis Pare A-
Pare forced his way into the lineup with a torrid first half and just continued to get better from there. A slight dip in his numbers can be attributed to both of his normal linemates missing significant portions of the second half with injuries. The diminutive center continued to excel, tying Abdelkader for the team record in rookie goals with 24. Frankie needs to work on his quickness for next season, but with a new NHL contract in his pocket, should have no shortage of motivation.
Sergei Kolosov A-
Kolosov continued to build on his strong first half to earn the title of most improved player this season. The surprisingly mobile blueliner notched four goals in the second half; three in a two game span, to show some glimpses of talent starting to emerge. He made his most noticeable improvement in his intensity and physical play, showing a nasty edge and a willingness to hit, especially in the playoffs. His consistency could use some more work, but the Wings have taken notice of his strong play, as evidenced by his postseason recall to be a black ace during the Stanley Cup run.
Darren Haydar A-
Haydar lived up to his MVP billing during the second half, posting 47 points followed by 11 more in the post season. He was clearly the team's offensive leader and displayed a knack for clutch scoring not seen here in a long time. A notable minus to the veteran winger's play was a less than stellar defensive game. This was overstated statistically due to the high number of points on the powerplay, leaving him at -14 for the half. Haydar has already indicated he is likely to move on for another shot at the NHL, but he would be welcomed back with open arms.
Francis Lemieux B+
Lemieux battled through some injuries and illness, but showed tremendous chemistry with rookie Frankie Pare, posting almost a point per game down the stretch. The hustling, aggressive forechecker frequently created turnovers and turned the puck up ice for good scoring chances for himself or his linemates. An unrestricted free agent, Lemieux would be an attractive prospect to return as he has four years of experience but has not played enough games to be considered a veteran under AHL rules.
Daniel Larsson B
Larsson followed up a monster first half with a good second. His numbers dipped the latter part of the season, mostly attributed to the decimated lineup he played behind. He was laid low by a concussion and tried to struggle through it before being shut down. He was eventually cleared by the medical staff to back-up Howard, but was still not quite ready to play. He is expected to take the starter's role in Grand Rapids next season.
Ville Leino B
A super first half earned Leino his first NHL recall, which the talented Finn used to showcase his stellar offensive skills. When he was returned to the AHL, his game changed again, but not necessarily for the better. He was still able to do incredible things with the puck, but his defensive game and level of effort fell off. He raised his game to a new level in the postseason, leading the league in scoring through two rounds by scoring 13 points in the first 6 games. Leino has stated he is done with the AHL, so it is the NHL or bust for the puck-handling wizard.
Evan McGrath B
After re-inventing himself in the first half, McGrath continued to make progress towards being a consistently productive winger. Playing a gritty, aggressive game, he has turned into a two-way threat that battles for the puck and can take advantage of the turnovers he creates. Evan was really on a roll when a late shoulder injury derailed his season and caused him to miss the playoffs. It was no coincidence that the two Frankies struggled in his absence, something that should work to his advantage in securing a new contract with the Wings.
Brett Peterson B
Peterson came in with very low expectations and managed to turn a short-term injury replacement into a steady role the last portion of the season. The slick skater showed off an excellent first pass, good defensive instincts and the ability to carry the puck up ice during his short stint in the AHL. He was very impressive in the playoffs in his lone appearance, and hopefully laid the groundwork for a longer opportunity in Grand Rapids next season.
Mike Walsh B
Making his third go-round with the Griffins, Walsh really turned some heads with his responsible, energetic play. A physical player who likes to hit, he was brought in for some size and energy on the wing. He ended up staying for several weeks, producing 3 goals in limited ice time. Walsh was much improved over his last stint in the AHL, playing well defensively and not getting out of position as much. Though he didn't dress, he was recalled for the playoffs, perhaps the harbinger of another contract next season.
Darren McCarty B-
Fan favorite McCarty was a big boost to the lineup even if he was not up to full speed recovering from his Hernia surgery. The veteran winger still had the hands, the vision, and the heart, but was hampered by a lack of speed and stamina. His most important attribute however, was his leadership as he brought back to the room some of the swagger that left with Landon Wilson earlier in the year. D-Mac is still a contributor at this level and is a great tutor to the prospects about how to be a Red Wing. An unrestricted free agent, McCarty's NHL days look to be over, but he could still be an important cog in the AHL.
Joakim Andersson C+
Thrown directly into the pressure cooker, Andersson had just one game of experience before being made a regular for the playoffs. He acquitted himself quite well, posting 4 points in 11 games while playing a physical game. Centering the second line, he was highly visible, winning battles in front, aggressively wading into the scrums, and making some nice plays with puck. He could use some work on his quickness, and add a little more bulk to his frame, but he has another year in the SEL to work on those things.
Aaron Gagnon C+
Gagnon seized a regular spot in the lineup over the second half with his speed and determination. He picked up his offense, netting 14 points in the second half, but it was his defensive work that got him playing time. The hustling forward was a regular on the penalty kill, and centered a fourth line known for its aggressive forecheck. Aaron will be moving on next season, joining the Stars new affiliate in Austin.
Jimmy Howard C+
The second half was more of the same for Howard as he ran hot and cold to finish out the schedule. He managed to hit the 20 win mark for the 4th time, but dropped four out of five decisions to end the season with home ice advantage on the line. He raised his game for the playoffs, winning his first series as a pro, and got his team to the second round. Howard has been told to come to camp ready to take the NHL backup job. He is out of AHL eligibility, meaning he has probably played his last game in Grand Rapids.
Garrett Stafford C
One consistent thing about the veteran blueliner's game is that it leaves you wanting more. He can be red hot one night, moving the puck on a string, but follow that up the next night with turnovers in his own end and poor decisions in the offensive zone. Stafford has the skill to be an elite level AHL defenseman, but he seems to have trouble putting it all together consistently. After two seasons on the Griffins blueline, he is slated to play in Texas next year for the Dallas Stars' new AHL farm club.
Jason Jozsa C
Jozsa played a safe, steady game as a fifth or sixth blueliner over the second half and into the playoffs. Not noted for his offense (one point over the last 27 games) the smooth skating Jozsa made few mistakes, and was known for making a good first pass to clear the zone. He really stepped up in the playoffs, paired with Kolosov, and the duo was arguably the team's best pairing. An unrestricted free agent, it is unclear whether Jason will return.
Mattias Ritola C
Ritola had a nightmare second half as a bad shoulder ruined what started out to be a breakthrough season for the talented forward. The slick winger gets full marks for returning weeks early from surgery and playing through the pain while call-ups and injuries decimated his team. At times when he could barely even move his arm, he would take a regular shift, though with very limited effectiveness.
Jamie Tardif C-
Tardif plays a complete game and does all of the little things needed to win. He battles in the tough areas of the ice, bangs along the boards, creates turnovers on the forecheck, and generally irritates the opposing players. The biggest thing missing this season was his offense. The gritty winger could not buy a goal in the second half, going 21 games without bulging the twine. A serious knee injury cost him the last 6 weeks of the season, but he made a miraculous return for the playoffs, notching a pair of goals and showing no ill effects.
Tom Galvin C-
Galvin improved slightly in the second half, but seemed unable to regain last year's form. The usually solid defender was guilty of turning the puck over, and had problems in his own end. Part of this can be attributed to the adventure of playing with Kindl as his season deteriorated. Tom's contract is up, and it remains to be seen whether he will return.
Cory Emmerton C-
Emmerton had an up and down season, bouncing around the lineup in the second half, mired in some epic droughts. It is obvious that the skill is there, but he was not strong enough to make things happen on a regular basis in the AHL, and he didn't always play with fire and compete as hard as he needed to. To succeed in the AHL Emmerton must refine his game as a pro because too often when he wasn't scoring he was not contributing. If he can improve his strength this off-season as much as he improved his skating over the last, he should be back on track next year.
Darren Helm D+
After spending the first month of the second half in Detroit, Helm came back without the same zip, flair and intensity that he showcased last season. Not only did his offensive game seem to disappear, with only 6 points in his last 18 games, but he also posted a very uncharacteristic -10 mark in that same stretch. The second year center was recalled before the start of the playoffs, and is likely to earn a spot in Detroit next season.
Jan Mursak D+
Mursak recreated himself in the second half to become a hustling, energy winger who was not afraid to hit, despite his small stature. After adapting his game, he even had some modest offensive success, scoring 6 points in 20 games and firing 53 shots on goal in that span. His strong play down the stretch even helped him get some playing time in the playoffs. Mursak is another young player that should be ready to have a better start next season after working through a difficult freshman year.
Jakub Kindl D+
Kindl may have been the biggest disappointment of the second half as the organization's top defensive prospect took a big step back in his development. His offensive game and his confidence dried up in January, followed by a string of poor decisions on the ice leaving some to question his hockey sense. Jakub was a turnover machine in the latter stretches of the season, making the same mistakes over and over again. He will need to come out of the gates strong to avoid being passed over on the depth chart.
Logan Pyett D
Pyett followed up a disappointing first half with more of the same, eventually losing his spot in the lineup prior to the playoffs. He was out-skated and out-muscled regularly and did not appear to have the quickness to play at the AHL level. That being said, he should benefit from his baptism under fire and a summer of working out to have more of an impact next season.
Aaron Downey D
The fiery veteran came apart in the latter stretches of the season, letting his emotions get the best of him as he took a steady stream of bad penalties that negated his positive influence in the room. His offense and defense also fell off and he managed just 3 assists and a -8 over the second half. An energetic grinder who did wonders with his younger teammates, Downey will likely move on to another organization next season.
Jonathan Ericsson Inc.
PJ Atherton Inc.
Jordan Pearce Inc.
Brent Raedeke Inc.
Zack Torquato Inc.
Dan Charleston Inc.