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Sweeping Changes in Store?
Griffins embark on summer of change...
By Jason Kasiorek
May 19th, 2016

As the Griffins organization licks its wounds and reflects on what could have been following their second round loss to the Lake Erie Monsters, thoughts are already turning to next season. Exit interviews are already being conducted and decisions are being considered at all levels of the organization. Decisions that will determine the direction the Griffins are heading in next season. This season among the epic winning and losing streaks it appeared this team and the coaching staff were never completely comfortable together. This could weigh heavily into which veterans are retained and what types of players are added.

Change is a fact of life at the AHL level, and there will be a lot of player movement for the Griffins, perhaps more than normal as we have reached the end of a cycle and have several players all running up against the end of the waiver exemption wall and veteran's status. Depending on what happens with the parent club, there is also a bumper crop of players pressing for employment in the NHL next season, and one way or another several of them should be in that league next season, either with Detroit or another organization.

Lets start by taking a look at the Griffins Free Agents:

RFA (Restricted Free Agent): Tomas Nosek, Brian Lashoff, Colin Campbell, Ryan Sproul, Jared Coreau, Mitch Callahan, Louis-Marc Aubry.

UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent): Thomas McCollum, Andy Miele, Dan Cleary, Joakim Andersson, Jeff Hoggan (GR), Mark Zengerle (GR), Joel Chouinard (GR), Scott Czarnowczan (GR), Triston Grant (GR), Joel Rechlicz (GR), Steve Spinell (GR), Dominic Zombo (GR), AJ Jenks (GR), Derek Docken (GR), Alden Hirschfeld (GR).

Detroit almost always qualifies their RFA's rather than lose an asset. Short of a trade I would expect to see Lashoff, Campbell, Sproul, Coreau, Callahan and Aubry retained. It remains to be seen whether Tomas Nosek is willing to put a third season into the AHL and if he isn't going to make the Wings may return to Europe.

The UFA list is a bit more complicated. After an injury-plagued season, Triston Grant is not likely to be back, neither is rarely used enforcer Joel Rechlicz. Joakim Andersson has already signed a contract to play in Sweden with Orebro HK (SHL). Danny Cleary has been rumored to be talking contract with Ken Holland, but did not show he had much left during the season, and might be better served by hanging the skates up and putting on a tie behind the bench. Captain Jeff Hoggan suffered through a less productive season but still feels he has more left in the tank. He has been the team's voice for 4 seasons, but had a tough time with the rotating veterans scratch as Detroit loaded up the team with vets.

Slick center Andy Miele would be welcomed back, but may move on for another shot at the NHL. He was lured back for another season last time with the hope that Blashill's promotion to the NHL would pave the way for another big league shot, and that did not happen. Similarly, Mark Zengerle has had two relatively productive seasons and may be looking for a two-way contract, even if it means moving on. This offseason almost certainly will see the end of seven-year man Thomas McCollum's tenure with the team as Jared Coreau seized the starters role and the organization is ready for Jake Paterson to get some experience.

Defenseman Joel Chouinard looked like an everyday player in a few audition this season and could very well be re-signed to be one of the Griffins regular defenseman. Scott Czarnowczan also played well in a small sample size after being recalled from Toledo, but seemed to fall out of favor and was not called up again. It remains to be seen whether he will be re-signed. Up front Alden Hirschfeld is still recovering from brain surgery earlier in the season and is no guarantee to return next season. A.J. Jenks showed some offensive flair and gritty play in a late season and could possibly be brought back to provide some depth in the system. Dominic Zombo, Steve Spinell and Derek Docken were all depth signings for Toledo and are non-factors for the Griffins roster.

Andreas Athanasiou headlines that cast of players graduating and has probably played his last AHL contest. He should be a starter in Detroit, picking up where he left off with an impressive rookie season. Anthony Mantha will probably be given a long look in training camp, but could still be another half season away. Sniper Martin Frk is an interesting story, while he still has some developing to do, he would have to pass through waivers, but with his knack for scoring and booming shot, he is likely to be claimed. This should guarantee that he gets a good luck in camp and an opportunity to see what he brings at the NHL level.

Ryan Sproul has forced his name back into the discussion, leapfrogging Ouellet and Jensen with a solid second half (10-13=23) and dominant playoffs scoring 2 goals and 7 assists with 30 shots in 9 games. The 6'4 right-hander has made great strides with his defensive game and could be a key part to the Red Wings powerplay because of his rocket shot and powerplay prowess. Blueliner Xavier Ouellet has been up and down the last few seasons, but it remains to be seen whether he can seize a spot on the Wings' backend. He is no longer waiver exempt and could be claimed if he was sent down. Nick Jensen is the third rearguard who would have to clear waivers, but flies under the radar enough that the club may try to sneak him through for another season. He is a smooth skating rearguard, but regressed a bit after a strong season last year. He is steady but not flashy and could be a dark horse.

Several of the team's veterans will find themselves at a crossroads this summer. While Eric Tangradi signed a two-year extension during the season, he remains the lone veteran forward under contract. Mitch Callahan has battled through injuries for several seasons and now will count against the team's veteran cap. He remains a locker room leader and a fan favorite and has stated a preference to return. Center Louis-Marc Aubry is in the same situation, though coming off his best pro season, the hulking defensive forward may draw some interest from other teams. Defensive kingpin Brian Lashoff, perhaps the best defensive defender in the AHL, will be qualified, but could still be attractive to an NHL club. His departure would be a huge blow, something he was perhaps mindful of as he circled the ice and was the last player off following their playoff defeat on Monday.

Tyler Bertuzzi will look to build on his rookie season, as he is likely to take on a larger role. Colin Campbell had a breakthrough season under coach Nelson and is likely to be re-signed. Zach Nastasiuk should make a case for full time work after spending half the year in in the ECHL. On the back end Nathan Paetsch returns for another season, as does Robbie Russo. And provided he doesn't make the wings out of camp as a backup, netminder Jared Coreau will look to take his place among the AHL elite again.

The team will also get some new blood, though several of those will look familiar to Griffins fans as they have already spent time with the club. On the backend, Joe Hicketts will be making his pro debut next season. He is a gifted puck mover and is one of the best blueliners in junior hockey. Rugged Dan Renouf will be in the mix to earn a job, but may have to spend some time in Toledo. Ville Saarijarvi may turn pro with the Griffins next season, but the parent Wings have not stated for sure that he will not be returning to the OHL (though likely not to Flint).

Up front the offense should be buoyed by first round pick Evgeny Svechnikov who made his AHL debut this year in the playoffs. He notched 32 goals in 50 games in the QMJHL and has size and speed to go with the offensive punch. WHL center Dominic Turgeon is expected to turn pro in 2016 though he may be slowed by a couple of late season injuries he is still working through. A strong two-way forward, Turgeon may never be flashy, but should be a solid player who will step in without much of a learning curve. Kyle Criscuolo captained the Harvard Crimson the last couple of seasons and signed a contract with Detroit this spring. Though small, he is a speedy center with great vision that is looking to stick in the AHL next season. The Griffins also signed a pair of rookies to be in the mix for the upcoming season in Matthew Santos and Alex Globke. Santos scored a point per game in the OHL and plays a banging game with a knack for clutch scoring. Globke is a massive grinder who played for Lake Superior State and attending a couple of the Red Wings Strength and Conditioning camps.

Based on the above, this is what the 2016-17 griffins Roster is shaping up to look like:

Jared Coreau*
Jake Paterson

V - Nathan Paetsch
V - Brian Lashoff*
Nick Jensen
Robbie Russo
Joe Hicketts
Ville Saarijarvi*
Dan Renouf
Joel Chouinard*

V - Eric Tangradi
V - Mitch Callahan*
V - Louis-Marc Aubry*
V - Veteran Forward FA (Andy Miele)*
Mark Zengerle*
Tyler Bertuzzi
Colin Campbell*
Zach Nastasiuk
Evgeny Svechnikov
Dominic Turgeon
Kyle Criscuolo
Mathew Santos
Alex Globke

Official Game Sheet