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Griffins 2018-19 Second Half Report Cards
A changing of the guard....
By Jason Kasiorek
June 1st, 2019

Grand Rapids struggled through an up and down season and at any given time looked like a team capable of finishing in first place or missing the playoffs. Along the way the team stumbled out of the gate, went on a dominant run that brought them with a game of first place, and then skidded into the post season on a nine-game losing streak. Ben Simon's first season behind the bench showed promise, but also showed some work needs to be done. The defense in particular did not show much improvement and were still making the same mistakes all season. After a disappointing first round playoff defeat, the inevitable changes will be coming. Several key players have crossed the veteran threshold which means some of them will have to move on. A goaltending upgrade is also on the horizon as the disappointing Harri Sateri moves on to the KHL and prospect Filip Larsson enters the picture.

These are the Griffins' second half grades:

The Rating Scale:
A - Excellence
B - Above Average play - Exceeds Expectations
C - Baseline - Meets Expectations
D - Below Average play - Does not meet expectations
F - Fail

2nd Half
GP G A PTS PIM +/- Shts GP G A PTS PIM +/- Shts
Wade Megan A 31 15 12 27 20 -1 89 5 2 0 2 16 -3 13
The Griffins best player down the stretch, Megan led the team in scoring in the second half, posting 15 goals and 27 points in the 31 games he played. The offense was only part of the story, however as the veteran forward plays such a complete game, that even when he isn't scoring, he is winning battles and paying a physical game. His feisty, aggressive game was a big addition to the Griffins after spending a large chunk of the first half in Detroit, and his work ethic made him a great role model for linemate Filip Zadina. Detroit will have to make some tough decisions among the veterans, as Megan is an unrestricted free agent, and brings a different element than one dimensional snipers like Terry or Puempel.

Brian Lashoff A 27 1 6 7 10 3 39 2 0 1 1 0 2 1
The Griffins secretary of defense, Lashoff was rewarded by the parent club with a two-year extension and a recall to the NHL. Veteran leader remains one of the best defensive defensemen in the AHL and has a knack for slowing the game down. An injury early in the playoffs proved quite a blow for the Griffins as Lashoff was a key, using his size and reach to give the Wolves fits. Next season the rugged defender will return to Grand Rapids to continue his climb up the AHL longevity records.

Colin Campbell A 38 5 5 10 8 5 57 5 3 0 3 2 5 9
The Griffins Mr. Hustle, Campbell uses his considerable talents to fuel his defensive game, and his physical gifts to make it hard to play against him. He is a good skater with very good vision and anticipation, breaking up rushes and stripping away the puck to start his own counter-attacks. He is stocky, solid physically, and hits like a freight train, so opposing players need to keep their heads up when he is on the ice. You know what you are going to get from him every night in terms of effort and execution, and he is easily one of the best penalty killers in the AHL showing terrific chemistry with Dom Turgeon. The future is cloudy for ‘Soupy' as he has crossed the games played threshold to be considered a veteran and there may not be an available spot for the unrestricted free agent. His departure would leave a huge hole in the lineup, so hopefully the team will find a way to re-sign him.

Filip Hronek A- 11 2 4 6 11 -6 30 5 0 3 3 28 0 17
After a terrific first half, Hronek graduated to the NHL, quarterbacking the powerplay and playing over 20 minutes a night on the top pairing. He ended up back with the Griffins after the parent club's season ended. He looked like he was playing at a different level in the AHL, showing off a high level of confidence and skill and imposing his will with the puck. The only black mark is that he plays so close to the edge, that occasionally he crosses the line and takes a bad penalty because of his aggressiveness. The playoffs were his swan song in the AHL, and he has graduated to the NHL.

Jake Chelios A- 28 1 6 7 20 9 30 4 0 0 0 7 1 5
A solid, two-way defender, Chelios saw a lot of minutes at even strength and shorthanded and was a solid presence on the Griffins blueline. Not the biggest of blueliners, he plays a snarly, gritty game and will battle for every inch of ice. His offensive game has been quiet until just the last stretch, but he does make a great first pass and knows how to get the puck on net, low and with good velocity. His true gift is in how he sees the ice and anticipates plays to break them up, playing defense with a forward's vision. He was rewarded with his first NHL recall, playing five games with Detroit. Knowing he would be squeezed out as another veteran on a crowded blueline, Chelios opted to try his luck in the KHL next season.

Martin Frk A- 13 5 9 14 6 12 37 3 1 2 3 16 -2 5
Frk returned to Griffins after languishing in the press box in Detroit for most of the season and played like he had something to prove. He immediately became on offensive catalyst for the team and showed some terrific chemistry with Filip Zadina. While Frk's chief weapon remains his blistering shot, it was evident how much he has improved the other areas of his game, including his skating, passing and defensive awareness. The Griffins powerplay saw a big uptick in the games he played in and he averaged a point per game down the stretch and into the playoffs. Frk's career is at a crossroads, a restricted free agent, he will have to wait and see if Detroit makes him a qualifying offer to know whether he is returning.

Dylan McIlrath B+ 25 0 5 5 50 4 31 4 0 0 0 10 1 8
McIlrath had another steady but unspectacular second half for the Griffins, providing an unmatched physical presence and a steady shutdown defensive presence. His strong play also led to his first recall by the parent Wings, playing in 7 contests with a +2 defensive rating. Dylan is one of the AHL's nuclear deterrent in that his presence keeps things calm on the ice, because few players want to drop the gloves with the punishing enforcer. His leadership cannot be overstated as it is apparent on the bench and in-game how the other players look to him for advice and approval. His value to the organization was recognized with a two-year contract extension, meaning he should be back patrolling the Griffins blueline and available to help in the NHL should the need arise.

Carter Camper B 34 8 15 23 12 -6 75 5 0 3 3 0 1 7
Made a name for himself in the first half combining with Chris Terry and producing timely offense. The second half of the season his effectiveness seemed to decline as time went on. Camper does a lot of little things well and is deadly on the powerplay with his ability to thread passes through traffic. Not the swiftest of skaters, that facet seemed to stand out at times during the season with the speedsters that played for the Griffins, as he looked slow. He also was just not big enough to fight through checks and during the late season grind that seemed to catch up to him. Camper will likely move on to another team next season as an unrestricted free agent as the veteran numbers game squeezes him out.

Patrik Rybar B 15 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rybar continued to be a bright spot between the posts for the Griffins over the second-half, playing much stronger than his rookie status would suggest. The freshman puck stopper was among the league leaders all season, sitting in the top five in goals against average until a late season slump where things went off the rails for the whole team. His poised, confident style has served him well, as he seems to be in position to make the stop is and very economical in his movement. Not sure what his top end is yet, but he has likely earned another contract and should battle for the starters job in Grand Rapids next season.

Turner Elson B 38 7 5 11 33 -2 81 5 2 2 4 0 3 7
Grinding forward had a career first half and earned a two-way contract with Detroit. For the second straight season, Elson suffered an injury and had a hard time finding the same level when he returned. He finished strong and was the leading scorer during the teams brief post-season run. Established career highs in offensive totals. Could be in the mix for a look during training camp, but if he returns, he will command one of the Griffins veteran spots. Another year remaining on his contract.

Givani Smith B 37 5 5 10 48 5 38 4 0 2 2 9 1 2
After a lackluster first half, Smith raised the level of his game over the second half and was a force during the post-season. The numbers won't show the impact he had on the game, but he showed signs of putting it all together as the season went along. He is a physical specimen with size and soft hands, able to impart his will and skill on the play when he chooses to. He can steal the puck and cut towards the net, and very few players can stop him on the way there. If he continues to play at this level, the points will come. The biggest thing the physical forward needs to continue working on is keeping his temper in check and not taking bad penalties. He should play a bigger role with the Griffins next season.

Vili Saarijarvi B- 32 1 8 9 10 16 45 1 1 0 1 0 0 1
Stuck in neutral for a large part of the season, and unable to earn a full-time spot in the lineup. Poor decision making at both ends of the ice and lack of intensity cost him. Injuries and recalls gave him another shot late in the season and he did play better in spurts especially defensively. Great pace and motor, running out of time and opportunity to establish himself. Finished +16 in the second half to lead the team at +19. Saarijarvi has one more year left on his entry-level contract and should establish himself in the top 6 in Grand Rapids.

Dominic Turgeon B- 34 3 6 9 22 4 63 3 1 2 3 0 3 9
Turgeon worked his way back from a season ending medical condition during the first half and re-established himself as a top defensive center and penalty killer during the second. The one component of his game that has not come back yet was the offensive touch he showed last season. At one point in the second half, Turgeon had 1 goal in 25 games, which for a player that saw the ice as much as he did, is not enough. He remains solid in the faceoff circle and has had a permanent spot on the top penalty killing unit with Campbell in addition to his normal duties centering the 2nd or 3rd lines. An unrestricted free agent, Turgeon has seen time in Detroit the last two seasons and is a lock to be qualified.

Harri Sateri B- 16 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 1 1 0 0 0
After a rough first half, Sateri showed improvement over the second half but was still maddeningly inconsistent. For a player that was supposed to give the organization a push as a strong #3, Sateri finished 30th in goals against average and with a sub 90% save percentage. When he was on top of his game, he was capable of some impressive performances, but we just didn't see that enough from him. A scrambling netminder, he needs to work on being in position better to the shooter as his excessive movement appears to be an issue at this point. It was no surprise to see that he was not returning next year, having signed a contract in the KHL.

Matt Puempel B- 26 9 12 21 29 -3 103 5 2 2 4 16 -1 9
The streaky sniper managed to post respectable totals over the second half but was not as dangerous as he had been earlier in the year. Particularly troubling was his lack of effectiveness on the Griffins malfunctioning powerplay, normally a strength of his game. He got hot in early March and earned a recall to the NHL, scoring a goal in 8 games for Detroit. Under contract for another season, Puempel should return to the Griffins and score his usual 20+ goals in a secondary role. He needs to add another dimension to his game to become more of an impact player, but when he is hot, he can score goals.

Derek Hulak C+ 21 0 2 2 2 3 22 4 1 1 2 0 1 3
The veteran forward battled through injury problems in the second half and the team suffered without him in the lineup. While his offensive game never came on line, he was a defensively responsible grinder, providing energy while centering Givani Smith and Dominik Shine on a formidable checking line. Hulak has a veteran's composure but is still under the 260-game mark and won't take one of the team's veteran slots. An unrestricted free agent, it remains to be seen whether he will return next season, but he remains a viable option in the bottom six.

Matt Ford C+ 25 3 5 8 16 -5 36 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
The captain was out of the lineup for most of the second half and the postseason due to an injury and was not as effective when he was in the lineup. Ford continues to provide leadership and is an example to the younger players but is looking like age and injuries are starting to catch up to him. The veteran winger has one more year left on his contract and has made a career out of hard work and battling through adversity. The organization is counting on a bounce back season from this special-teams ace.

Filip Zadina C + 31 9 9 18 6 -4 78 5 2 1 3 0 -2 7
The second half of the season was very similar to the first half for the gifted freshman sniper. He was effective at times and scored some pretty goals, they were just few and far between. He seemed to improve defensively down the stretch and earned a brief NHL recall with the parent Wings. 16 goals and 19 assists in 59 games is a 20-goal pace, which is a decent total. Had a big game in the post-season and should come back next year stronger and ready to challenge for a spot at the big camp.

Joe Hicketts C 35 1 15 16 35 -3 49 5 0 1 1 8 -1 7
A battler, Hicketts never gives up, and has overcome a lack of size to make it to this level. But for the second straight year, he has been too inconsistent, with just too many nights you don't notice him. He Picked it up down the stretch a bit but took some terrible penalties that cost the team as he lost control several times. Despite spending some time in Detroit, Hicketts is in danger of being passed over by other prospects. The fan favorite restricted free agent is expected to be given a qualifying offer to return again.

Dominik Shine C 34 3 0 3 11 -2 38 5 1 1 2 2 1 9
A buzz saw on skates, Shine does everything at full speed, flying around the ice hitting anything in an opposing sweater. Capable of playing anywhere in the lineup and nearly any role, Shine was a staple on the penalty kill and also played much bigger than his size. He has soft hands and is capable of much more offense than he generated in the second half, which was the one area of concern. An unrestricted free agent, Shine remains a responsible role player and could return for another season in GR.

Libor Sulak C- 28 4 1 5 18 -11 41 4 0 2 2 4 4 4
You never knew which Sulak would show up. At his best – world-class skating and the ability to move the puck up ice at will combined with a long reach and physical play. At his worst - hesitant, poor decision making and lack of physical play despite huge frame. The hulking blueliner's offense came in spurts and his defensive play seemed to improve at the end. An RFA, Sulak appears unlikely to return and comments from the organization indicate they feel he could not adapt to defense at the NHL level.

Chris Terry C- 31 7 15 22 24 -14 87 5 1 1 2 2 1 12
Vying for the league lead in goals over the first half, Terry fell hard during the second, posting only 2 goals in his last 15 games and 6 in his last 30. Once the scoring dried up, he was a shell of his former self, and teams would not even bite on him being used as a decoy on the powerplay. The lone bright spot for Terry was his season high five-point game, which came in the midst of a nine-game scoring slump. Signed for next season, the Griffins hope that Terry can regain his touch, as the former AHL scoring star will be counted on to provide offense.

Dennis Cholowski C- 25 0 12 12 12 0 43 5 0 2 2 2 1 8
After starting the season in the NHL and sticking for the first half of the season, the second half was a disappointing one for the former first round draft pick. In the AHL his first game appeared to be his best, and he went downhill from there, becoming less and less assertive as time went on. He became less inclined to use his big point shot, and when leading the breakout, he displayed a habit of passing behind him when he reached the line instead of carrying in. Confidence was clearly the issue, and how the young defender regroups over the offseason will go a long way towards determining his future. He is penciled in to battle for an NHL job in training camp, but it would not be surprising if he began the year in the AHL.

Axel Holmstrom D 28 3 5 8 0 -3 27 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Never took a step forward in his development and as people came back from injury and recall found himself on the outside looking in. Two-way forward never gained traction offensively and did not appear to have the footspeed needed. A restricted free agent, Holmstrom has already signed for next year with a team in Sweden, likely ending his NHL dreams.

David Pope D 7 0 0 0 4 1 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
The rookie winger was in and out of the lineup in the first half without much of an impact. The second half saw time in the press box before a late season assignment to Toledo (ECHL). Pope needs more urgency and intensity to gain a lineup spot in the AHL, and as an older prospect has his work cut out for him. For a guy that was rumored to be in the hunt for a slot with the Wings in camp, Pope did not have the season he wanted.

Chase Pearson Inc. 10 2 0 2 2 -2 17 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Played well enough in an audition at the end of the season to earn a regular spot in the lineup. He played a physical in-your-face game, throwing some brutal open-ice hits and taking punishment to make plays in front of the net. He ended up returning to college to finish a class which cost him a spot in the playoff lineup.