Griffins 2015-16 Second Half Report Cards|
Bumper crop of prospects ready for NHL audition...
By Jason Kasiorek
June 3rd, 2016
With the parent Wings in the midst of a major retooling, several Griffins stand ready for an opportunity to prove they can help. Much has been made of the Grand Rapids defense and the number of players who will have to either stay in the NHL or pass waivers. After three seasons, righty Ryan Sproul looks to have put all the pieces together and stands poised for a preseason audition to prove he can help Detroit's powerplay. Xavier Ouellet, the 8th defenseman for the last couple of years will also have the opportunity to show his wares. Nick Jensen is a darkhorse to steal a spot, but is looking over his shoulder at emerging talent Robbie Russo. Veteran Brian Lashoff, one of the top defenders in the AHL, could probably help a several NHL teams on the bottom pairing. Between the pipes, Jared Coreau turned in a stellar season, serving notice that he has his sights set on an NHL job in the near future.
Up front Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou should graduate and sniper Martin Frk may end up with a chance as well. Tomas Nosek, Eric Tangradi and maybe Colin Campbell and Louis-Marc Aubry could get a shot in the bottom six. Tyler Bertuzzi added the exclamation point to his season with his playoff scoring explosion and probably is not too far behind.
These are the Griffins' second half grades:
The Rating Scale:
A - Excellence - Far Exceeds Exectations
B - Above Average - Exceeds Expectations
C - Average - Meets Expectations
D - Below Average
F - Fail
Brian Lashoff A
The difference between the AHL and the NHL isn't much, but in Lashoff's case it is the difference between being a depth defender and a difference maker. At the AHL level he is perhaps the top defensive defenseman in the league, using his calm demeanor and excellent vision to break up rushes and take away space. He is tough to play against because of his size, skating and wingspan, and flat out rarely makes mistakes. He plays with a physical edge and will drop the gloves when necessary but is also capable of making a clutch offensive play as his two big playoff goals attested. A restricted free agent, Lashoff will certainly be qualified, but some NHL club may pick him up on waivers in the fall if they feel he can help their blueline.
Anthony Mantha A
While it would be easy to talk about his much improved offense and compete level, the thing that seems to stand out for Mantha is his ability to turn negative comments into motivation. Rarely has a player with his skill set been so maligned by the organization so early in his career, but the towering sniper just uses it as motivation to up his game another notch. He got his first taste of the NHL, and by the numbers didn't look out of place, but was used less and less and was dismissed back to the AHL as being a nonfactor. The result was 11 points in 9 playoff games to lead the team. That being said, he still needs to keep working on his intensity, consistency and focus which tend to ebb and flow.
Ryan Sproul A
Sproul finally put all of the pieces together and had a solid if not spectacular second half. First and foremost was the return of his offensive game, using his booming right hand shot to score 9 goals down the stretch to set new career highs, and then following up a point per game in the postseason where he sits in the top 3 in defensive scoring. He did this while still maintaining a solid level of play in his own end, logging a ton of ice time. He seemed to rise to the occasion, playing bigger in the big games, and had a couple of big nights with the house full of the brass from the parent club. His strong play may have leapfrogged him to the top of the depth chart and he could turn a strong preseason into an NHL opportunity.
Louis-Marc Aubry A
The emerging power forward shattered his career best numbers, scoring 6 goals and 9 assists in the second half to give him 12 and 17, respectively. A key to the Griffins penalty kill, he was among the league leaders in shorthanded points. He did a great job centering the 4th line, at times the most effective line for this team, cycling the puck and throwing the other teams off balance with their counter-attack. He skates very well for his size and uses his 6'4 to its full advantage, throwing huge hits, winning battles in front and even dropping the gloves when necessary. An RFA, he should return next season, but with a solid start could see his first NHL recall.
Andy Miele A-
The team's leading scorer by a fair margin in the second half, Miele also was among the league leaders in points (6th - 62) and assists (5th - 44) on the year. While he just didn't look as dangerous as last season, he remained the team's offensive catalyst and the go to guy when the team needed a goal. Toward the end of the season and into the playoffs his chippy play seemed to backfire a bit as he took some tough penalties leaving GR short one of its best players at very inopportune times. It remains to be seen where Miele will play next season. An Unrestricted Free Agent, Miele is looking for an NHL opportunity and after two seasons in Grand Rapids without a recall, may choose to move on to another organization.
Robbie Russo A-
Russo capped off a fantastic rookie season upping his offensive contributions and leading the team's defenders in points with 39. Much has already been made of his league leading +40 defensive rating which is among the AHL's top season totals of all time. While he played with a calmness and experience that far exceeded his rookie status, he did show he still had some work to do towards the end of the season when he struggled a bit with the quicker pace and a less sheltered role leading into the playoffs. He will return next season and could turn a strong start into his first NHL recall.
Jared Coreau B+
Coreau racked up 11 more wins in the second half before hitting the wall and losing his last five starts and the starters job heading into the postseason. Part of the problem was the team's streaky nature, while another part was probably fatigue as the super-sized netminder played more games than he ever had before. He finished the season with 29 wins, good enough for 4th, 3rd in shutouts with 6 and 4th in save percentage at .922. He stepped into the breach with team on the ropes in the postseason and backstopped a historic come from behind win and then extended the series another two games before falling game 6. An unrestricted free agent, Coreau should probably be back for another season, but is knocking at the door to the NHL.
Martin Frk B+
While Frk's torrid offensive pace slowed a bit in the second half, he still put together an impressive season, finishing 6th in the AHL in goals (27), 5th in powerplay goals (11) and 10th in shots (193). He followed that up by scoring a point per game in the opening round of the playoffs before being sidelined by an injury. He has improved his compete level and was an impact player, especially on the powerplay where he teamed well with fellow shooter Ryan Sproul on the points. He still has some things to work on including consistency and play away from the puck and needs to cut down on the bad penalties quite a few of which were retaliatory or when he gets beat defensively. He picked a great season to breakout as he now has to pass through waivers to be assigned to AHL, something unlikely to happen, and a strong camp could very well lead to playing time in Detroit or another NHL team.
Andreas Athanasiou B+ (Playoffs Only)
Small sample size for the second half as Athanasiou spent most of it in the NHL except for the 2nd round of the playoffs. There is no doubting his offensive skill and speed which he can use to embarrass players with highlight reel goals. He looks to have played his last game in Grand Rapids and is expected to make the wings out of training camp. The one knock on him is that for a player with his skill set and abilities, there is far too much time when you don't notice him. After his NHL performance, he should have been an impact player during the AHL playoffs, and really was not on a regular basis.
Eric Tangradi B+
A midseason slump after spending time in Detroit was about the only negative on the season for the truculent winger. Tangradi still managed a healthy 12 goals in the second half giving him 28 on the season which was fourth in the AHL. He was rewarded with a two-year contract extension by Detroit for his efforts. He got off to a good start in the postseason before coming out of the lineup with an injury in the second round. A power forward in the AHL, he is a rare combination of size and talent and could see some more time in the big leagues.
Tomas Nosek B+
There are few players in the AHL that match the Czech center's moves and creativity. He can make something out of nothing and finds seams that aren't there to get the puck to the net. Nosek turned it up offensively in the second half following his first NHL recall, notching 11 goals. His defensive game however will eventually be his ticket to the big leagues, as his size, reach and anticipation make him difficult to beat and a shorthanded threat every time he is on the ice. The one knock against the talented forward is his lack of consistency, as good as he is, he should have more of an impact every game. If the new two year extension he signed is any indication, the parent club may have designs on him filling a bottom six role in the near future.
Joel Chouinard B+
For the second year in a row Chouinard came in from the ECHL and fit in like a regular on the blueline. He moved the puck well, produced points and played solid defense. An unrestricted free agent, Joel has earned a longer look, and if he is retained, could be in the battle for the last spot on the backend.
Tyler Bertuzzi B
After a slow start to the season, Bertuzzi heated up down the stretch adding 9 goals and 16 points while playing his standard aggressive fore-checking game. For the second year in a row, he came alive in the postseason where his 7 goals in 9 games easily paced the team's top scorers. The feisty winger brings energy and agitates with his physical play, but is an effective offensive player as well, a rare combination of grit and talent. He needs to continue to work on his consistency and to keep his head and not take bad penalties, but should be on the cusp of his first taste of the NHL next season.
Nick Jensen B
The smooth skating rearguard played pretty well in his own end, using his wheels to get to loose pucks and keep them out of danger. His offensive game, while improved from the first half, still was a sharp drop-off from last season. Jensen logs a ton of ice time and is steady but unspectacular, but has not been able to move up in the pack of young defensemen and is now in danger of being passed by Russo. He is now waiver eligible but he is unlikely to stick in Detroit or be claimed on the way to the AHL, so is penciled in for a return to Grand Rapids.
Colin Campbell B
Campbell continued to build off his successful first half, providing a solid presence on the third and fourth lines as well as seizing a role as a primary penalty killer. He showed off a knack for scoring clutch goals, showing off some pretty soft hands in close. He also is difficult to play against but rarely takes a bad penalty and uses his size and frame effectively. Despite scoring a career high 10 goals, his ability to score enough to play at the next level appears to be his biggest question mark. Another year of continued development should be expected for the restricted free agent, as he is a lock to be re-signed for next season.
Mark Zengerle B-
Zengerle picked up the pace offensively in the second where he notched 26 points, second only to Andy Miele. A streaky player, he racks up points in bunches with his adept passing, often threading a needle through a crowd to a waiting winger for a scoring opportunity. He plays with more grit than his size would indicate, but still has trouble battling for space. After two fairly productive seasons in the AHL, he may be looking for his first two-way contract with a shot at the NHL. He is unlikely to receive that with Detroit, making his return to Grand Rapids uncertain.
Mitch Callahan B-
You have to give full marks to the rugged winger for battling back from yet another significant injury to continue to be a factor for the Griffins. He missed the 20 goal mark by one and never stopped battling in whatever role he was thrust into. The simple truth though was that three seasons of injuries finally caught up with, limiting his effectiveness down the stretch and into the postseason. Callahan will benefit from a healthy off season to rest and rebuild and should come back stronger next season. He has crossed the threshold and will be a veteran next season, but his leadership and work ethic make him a favorite of the coaching staff, so it would not be surprising to see him return.
Xavier Ouellet B-
There are a lot of things to like about Ouellet's game, he is a good skater who can handle the puck well and plays with an edge. He makes a good first pass, and is confident enough to carry the puck up ice to create chances. Unfortunately that confidence is sometimes his undoing as he is guilty of trying to do too much and gets into trouble. It can be maddening watching him turn the puck over in his own end because he thinks he beat the last man to make a great play when the simple play would have been to rim it off the boards and down the ice. It is unlikely he will pass through waivers in the fall, but it remains to be seen whether he will be part of the Detroit blue line sextet.
Thomas McCollum B-
The veteran netminder got on roll in the second half racking up 11 of his 15 wins on the year and seizing the starters job for the playoffs. He finished in the top 10 in the league in GAA (2.42 - 9th) and save percentage (.923 - 3rd) and turned in a seven game winning streak. The knock against McCollum is that he seems to give up a bad goal at the worst time, and despite playing well, he went to the bench in favor of Coreau with the season on the line against Lake Erie. After 7 years in Grand Rapids, it is hard to believe that Tomcat will return, as the organization wants Paterson to get time in the AHL backing up Coreau..
Jeff Hoggan C+
The captain suffered through a tough season in silence, but played his heart out in a limited fourth line role, bringing energy and hard work. He remains the team's leader on and off the ice, but never seemed to be a favorite of coach Nelson. He says he still has a lot left in the tank, but it remains to be seen whether he will be retained, or whether he will want to return if he will be used the same way for another season.
Nathan Paetsch C
The veteran defender saw his offense tail off a bit over the second half, but was still a key player in his own end. His biggest strength is his ability to break the puck out and fuel the transition game. He saw a ton of ice time as one of the workhorses on the blueline often paired with Sproul over the second half and was also a staple on the penalty kill. He is still signed through next season and should once again anchor the backend while breaking in a greener partner, a role he has played well for 4 seasons in Grand Rapids.
Dan Cleary C
Cleary gave everything he had every night, but the tank really just looked empty. He showed the warrior he was, blocking shots and sacrificing his body every shift. While he did enjoy a small stretch of effectiveness during the second half, most nights his on-ice product was not a factor. He is rumored to be in contract talks for next season, which would conspire to knock a deserving player out of the lineup. It is obvious the coaching staff likes his leadership enough to make that decision, but the organization would be better served with him joining that staff rather than suiting up for another season.
Zach Nastasiuk C
Nastasiuk split the season between the AHL and ECHL in his first pro season. After a lackluster first half he found his offensive game in the ECHL and showed a little spark in limited time with the Griffins scoring his first 3 AHL goals. A banger who excels at the defensive side of the game, Nastasiuk should be a regular in the lineup next season on the 3rd or 4th line. His footspeed, though improved, remains the hurdle he will have to overcome next.
Joakim Andersson D
Andersson was underwhelming in his 19 games in Grand Rapids. While the team waited for him to regain his scoring touch he was able to play a responsible defensive role, but he did not play at the level he did in his last AHL stint. He was recalled by Detroit and eventually signed a contract to return to Sweden for the next couple of seasons.
Evgeni Svechnikov Inc.
The wings first round pick in 2015, Svechnikov joined the Griffins following the conclusion of his junior career and got a brief opportunity in the second round of the playoffs when injuries thinned Grand Rapids depth up front. He looked pretty good, showing off his quick hands and using his size to get position in front of the net. He still has a lot to learn, but his trial by fire should help his adjustment to the AHL next season.
Triston Grant Inc.
Grant suffered through a lost season as injuries allowed him to only play 6 games including two in the second half. Noted for his locker room presence and physical play, Grant was a non-factor for much of the season. His contract is up and he will be an unrestricted free agent making his return unlikely.
Joel Rechlicz Inc.
Veteran enforcer was relegated to the pressbox and player very sparingly over the second half, getting into only 6 games. This capped off a frustrating season for Rechlicz as he was a spare part for the year, dressing for just 12 games. Hopefully he will find another opportunity elsewhere next season.
Kyle Criscuolo Inc.
Criscuolo got a short audition towards the end of the season and showed off his speed and opportunistic nature, generating 7 shots on goal. A heart and soul type of player, former Harvard captain is known for his work ethic and determination. He will be one of several bubble players coming out of camp and may have to earn his way up from the ECHL.
Dan Renouf Inc.
Renouf had a brief audition late in the season after finishing up at the U of Maine. The stocky defenseman showed a physical edge, but need to gain confidence and quickness. He should be in the fight for a spot on the Griffins blueline next season but it would not be a surprise to see him spend some time in Toledo (ECHL).