Griffins get Extreme Makeover|
Wings Farm club Retooled from the blueline out...
By Jason Kasiorek
October 7, 2010
Any time a team misses the playoffs, you know there will be changes. Those changes started for Grand Rapids late last season with the exorcism of veterans Andy Delmore, Kris Newbury and Evan McGrath making way for speedy Jordan Owens and rookie blueliner Brian Lashoff among others. Detroit completed the purge of veterans by allowing disinterested sniper Jeremy Williams to walk away along with Paul Crosty, John Vigilante, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and Riley Armstrong. Jakub Kindl and Mattias Ritola both graduated to the NHL, the former with Detroit, and the latter to Tampa Bay on waivers, and netminder Daniel Larsson spurned a contract offer to return home to Sweden.
This left the organization in prime position to retool and add some much needed organizational depth. They started the makeover by signing AHL scoring threats Jamie Johnson and Chris Minard to bolster the front end. Next up was dynamic forward Ilari Filppula, the reigning SM-Liiga playoff MVP and also brother of former Griffin and current Red Wing Valtteri Filppula. Add in two-way center Joakim Andersson and graduating juniors Brent Raedeke and Willie Coetzee and there is much room for optimism.
The questions in net were addressed when the club announced the signing of decorated former Griffins goalie Joey MacDonald for a return engagement to the site of some of his greatest triumphs. They completed the makeover by turning defensive prospect Brendan Smith pro and planting him firmly on the fast track to the NHL. Add in veterans Greg Amadio, back after a four-year absence and Derek Meech a former AHL all-star, and several of last season's regulars may find themselves in the press box.
The first line in camp features the three new offensive weapons in the Griffins arsenal, Johnson centering Minard and Filppula. This line has the potential to rival any the Griffins have put together, and if Minard can stay healthy could have an outside shot at 50 goals. Johnson is a proven point per game player in the AHL, and Filppula has some jaw dropping moves one-on-one.
The next line is made up of three key returnees from last season's squad, all looking to prove something. Jan Mursak was the last prospect cut from the Wings roster and he is hoping to build on last year's strong start to earn a spot in the NHL. Center Cory Emmerton and Frankie Pare are trying to rebound from disappointing seasons to stay on the big club's radar. All three looked very good through camp and are on track for an impact season.
Last years super rookie Tomas Tatar is on the left side of the next line, centered by two-way center Joakim Andersson and rookie Willie Coetzee on the right. Tatar has added some muscle to his frame and is ready to be a game-breaking forward this year. Andersson plays a defensively mature game but is capable of playing offense as well and will have every opportunity to prove it. Coetzee is a speedy player with great moves who will get his feet wet this season as he adjusts to the pro game.
The fourth line is centered by Brent Raedeke, a speedy defensive player in the Darren Helm mold. He will be flanked by Captain Jamie Tardif and grinder Jordan Owens. This line will be responsible for providing energy, but is still capable of providing offense. Owens and Tardif both play gritty banging games and are equally capable of dropping the gloves or chipping in a goal. This could be the fastest line in the AHL.
Kyle Rogers is in camp as an extra forward, and the X-factor is veteran Kirk Maltby who has been assigned by Detroit, but may retire and take a job within the organization.
This could be the best group of blueliner's the franchise has ever compiled. The top four include the aforementioned Meech as well as veteran Doug Janik who turned last year's career best season into a two-year contract. Offensive dynamo Brendan Smith should rack up the points on the powerplay and could see time with the big club this season. Logan Pyett is starting his third year and provides a steady presence on defense while chipping in some offense.
Brian Lashoff turned a lot of heads the last two springs, jumping into the lineup from the OHL and not looking out of place. He had a great prospects tournament and a good camp and could claim a top four spot by the halfway point. Truculent veteran Greg Amadio, fresh off a pair of Calder cups wins with Hershey returns to provide a physical defensive presence. He is a top shot blocker and is not afraid to drop the gloves. Sergei Kolosov has been the victim of the increased depth, and will find himself fighting for playing time as the 7th defenseman to start the season. The hulking Belarusian looks to have lost a lot of bulk and was noticeably quicker. Second year man Travis Ehrhardt, while much improved, finds himself fighting with Kolosov for the seventh defense spot with the loser likely joining Sebastien Piche in Toledo (ECHL).
Thomas McCollum is the designated starter on paper, and looked much better in the early going this year than he did at the end of last year. His continued development and emergence will have a big impact on the team's fortunes. He is the organization's goalie of the future and they will give him enough rope to hang himself before going to the veteran MacDonald. Joey is still a capable AHL netminder and could pick up the slack if McCollum's confidence wanes again. MacDonald won 34 games his last full season in Grand Rapids and has notched 72 NHL games since he left. The third stringer again is former Notre Dame crease caddy Jordan Pearce, who is destined for another year in the ECHL with Toledo.
Curt Fraser starts his third season behind the bench having garnered a reputation for being a great teacher to the young players. The organization likes his prepared, upbeat approach to the game, and as a former NHL'er he has credibility on and off the ice. Fraser is assisted by Stanley Cup winner Jim Paek, back for his 6th season in Grand Rapids. Recently retired Chris Chelios will also be around a lot this season in his role as a defensive prospects coach as will former Griffin Aaron Downey, recently hired as a minor league strength and conditioning coach. Bob McNamara remains the only GM in the history of the Griffins, and continues to be great at spotting talent in unlikely places to supplement the Wings prospects.