Griffins Hope Retooling Leads to Postseason Plans
2011-12 Season Primer...
By Jason Kasiorek
October 7, 2011
Having missed the playoffs two season's in a row, the Griffins' are hoping that the third time is the charm and that the tweaks made to the lineup will result in a return to the postseason. It will be a tall order as the team has lost some familiar faces since the last time we saw them. It starts at the top of the organization as longtime General Manager Bob McNamara has moved on to other opportunities with the Hamilton Bulldogs, and the club has decided not to replace him. This puts the onus for player procurement directly on the parent Detroit Red Wings and assistant general manager Jim Nill.
Captain Jamie Tardif was not re-signed and moved to the Boston Bruins organization. Sergei Kolosov (Europe) and Jordan Owens (Connecticut AHL) were not offered contracts and have departed along with grinders Brandon Straub and Adam Keefe (Europe). Leading scorer Ilari Filppula chose to return to Europe after not getting a look in the NHL. Defensive ace Derek Meech signed with his hometown Winnipeg Jets (NHL), and Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton have graduated to the Wings.
The cupboard however is far from bare as the Wings have again stocked the AHL club with a new slate of prospects and a couple of veterans to show them the way. The following is a look at the 2011-12 Grand Rapids Griffins:
Between the Pipes:
Griffins record book king Joey MacDonald returns and should see much more time on the AHL roster this season. He will continue to mentor the organizations younger netminder's while adding some stability to the position that was lacking for much of last season. His battery-mate to start the year will be last seasons' surprise starter, Jordan Pearce. Pearce returns ready to build off his great second half in which he posted 20 wins. Thomas McCollum is waiting in the wings in Toledo as he tries to find his game at the pro level.
Last season's super rookie Brendan Smith will be back poised to put up big numbers in his second AHL season. He will have a delayed start however as he sits out the first few games related to a pre-season NHL suspension. Versatile veteran Doug Janik returns for his third season on the blueline and should provide his normal gritty defensive game and 30 or so points. Newcomer Garnet Exelby brings 400+ games of NHL experience with him, and should become a fan favorite with his feisty, physical play.
Offensive defenseman Logan Pyett earned another year to prove he is a legitimate NHL prospect and looks to bounce back from a sub-par season at both ends of the ice. If he gets some powerplay time he could notch double digits in goals. Also returning on the back end is team leader Greg Amadio. Ammo brings grit and experience and gives 100% every night. He is not afraid to stand up for his teammates and is a good on ice teacher for the younger guys.
Brian Lashoff will look to establish himself in the Griffins top four after losing most of last season to injuries. The rangy defenseman plays a hitting game, but can also move the puck and play on the powerplay. Third year man Travis Ehrhardt hopes his versatility will keep him in the lineup and continue to improve on the great start he had to last season. Coach Fraser has used him at forward and on defense on occasion and he has played well at either. He looked much improved in the preseason and should move up the depth chart.
Former QMJHL defenseman of the year Sebastien Piche is facing what could be his last shot at the AHL in this organization as he is in the last year of his contract and has not been able to find a permanent spot outside of the ECHL. An offensive player with great vision, his skill set just has not translated to the AHL in the limited shots he has had. Gleason Fournier and Bryan Rufenach were assigned to Toledo to start the season and provide depth on the blueline.
Snipers Tomas Tatar and Frankie Pare return with both looking to crack the 30 goal mark for the first time. They are joined by veteran Jamie Johnson who showed some nice chemistry with Pare the last half of the season. Training Camp sensation Gustav Nyquist will have some ups and downs in his first AHL season, but looks like his offensive skills are solid. He showed some nice chemistry in camp and the Preseason with big center Joakim Andersson. Andersson looks much more fluid and will be counted on to add some offense to his already stellar two way game. Former WHL sniper Willie Coetzee rode the right side with the two of them in camp and will be given every opportunity to show the scoring potential the Wings saw in him when they signed him as a free agent last fall.
The Griffins should be able to throw out some speedsters as well, having added NHL'er Chris Conner to complement center Brent Raedeke. Conner has been good for a point per game when assigned to the AHL and plays a strong defensive game as well. Raedeke will try to up his offense as he develops into Darren Helm light. Mitchell Callahan will make his AHL debut this season and should become a fan favorite quickly. Often compared to Darren McCarty, Callahan is a devastating middle weight fighter with enough skill to play on a scoring line.
Center Landon Ferraro turns pro after a great camp with Detroit that saw him remain with the parent club far into the preseason before being one of the last cuts. If he has overcome his injury woes, he could be an impact player for this club. Ferraro brings blazing speed, a snipers touch, defensive awareness and an NHL bloodline to boot. Adam Estoclet parlayed a training camp tryout into a contract with the Griffins with his physical game and skating. He has the makings of a banging defensive forward who can capitalize on the turnovers he creates.
Rookie right wing Trevor Parkes and his junior line mate Louis-Marc Aubry round out the roster. Parkes is a goal-scorer with soft hands and a knack for clutch scoring. Center Louis-Marc Aubry is a 6'4 two-way center that is tough to play against. He needs to fill out a lot, but has the offensive upside and is a very aggressive player. Andrej Nestrasil is just a phone call away in Toledo where the talented puck handler will work on improving his foot speed and his compete level. Chris Minard's future is murky as he recovers from a reported concussion and it remains to be seen whether he will be back in Grand Rapids.