The strong play of the Red Wings’ AHL prospects have pushed the Grand Rapids Griffins into second place in the league’s Western Conference with a record of 17-7-3-3. There are several notable prospects playing for the Griffins including eight forwards, four defensemen and two goaltenders.
Darren Helm, C – 5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 132nd overall, 2005
The speedy Darren Helm has gained nothing but praise from the Detroit Red Wings. He was a playoff mainstay on the Red Wings during their 2008 championship run. Going into the 2008-09 season it would likely be difficult for Helm to stay motivated after playing a key role on the big club.
Quite the opposite has occurred, actually. Helm has continue to show his versatility as a player, amassing points, killing penalties and being a leader for the Griffins. In his sophomore season he has produced 24 points in 27 games as the team’s number one center. Helm will likely serve as an immediate call-up if Detroit faces any injuries and will also be with the club for the post-season barring any unexpected circumstances.
Ville Leino, LW – 6’1, 188lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2008
When the Red Wings were unable to sign highly-sought after player Fabian Brunnstrom they were faced with the possibility of signing Leino. The Finnish born player completely his 2008 season with the Jokerit club by obtained the Lasse Oksanen trophy, given to the player judged to have the best regular season. Leino aimed to earn a roster spot with the Red Wings coming into the 2008-09 season by showing off his strong offensive play and hockey sense.
In his pre-season with the Red Wings, Leino impressed the brass, but not enough for them to make a roster move or lose a player. While several European opt to return overseas when they do not make an NHL team, Leino has stuck it out and stayed with the Grand Rapids club. He remained motivated and started off the season strong before going down with a groin injury. After returning from injury Leino saw his play drop a bit, but has since returned to form. He currently stands as the scoring leader for the Griffins with 25 points in 28 games.
Justin Abdelkader, LW – 6’2, 215lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2005
Abdelkader entered his rookie season already having played a few games for the Red Wings. His physical edge and prowess around the net brought him great success at Michigan State last season. Going into the 2008-09 season, it would remain to be seen if Abdelkader’s physicality could make a transition into the AHL.
Not only has Abdelkader’s checking ability translated, but his scoring touch has as well. He was named the Reebok player of the month in October as he went on an offensive tear. While his play has slowed down since then, Abdelkader sits at a respectable 19 points in 28 games.
Jan Mursak, RW – 5’11, 182lbs
Acquired: 6th round, 182nd overall, 2006
Unlike Abdelkader, Mursak has struggled quite a bit in his rookie season with the Griffins. His offensive ability and point-per-game pace have been hindered by his lack of size. Mursak only has three assists in his 19 games with the Griffins and will need to find a way to spark his play if he wants to succeed at the minor pro level.
Cory Emmerton, C – 5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 41st overall, 2006
Emmerton has plenty of raw talent, but injuries have often hindered his progress. This season Emmerton has remained healthy and is having a solid season with the Griffins. He has garnered 16 points in 28 games and has played as the team’s second line center at times. If Emmerton can remain healthy, he will have a legitimate shot at blossoming into an NHL-caliber player.
Mattias Ritola, C – 5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 103rd overall, 2005
After being disappointed by his own play, Ritola has bounced back in his sophomore season with the Griffins. He has done a much better playing a North American style of hockey, as he has become more adept at going into the dirty areas to produce offense. Ritola is just two points shy of matching his point total for last season, gaining 20 points in 29 games.
Evan McGrath, C – 6’0, 195lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 128th overall, 2004
McGrath’s time in the AHL can only be described as disappointing. The once offensive dynamo has not been able to crack a point-per-game pace in his three years as a Griffin. This season he has 16 points in 22 games, which put him on pace for his highest point total so far. It remains to be seen if McGrath can turn his career around, but this season may be a good start.
Ryan Oulahen, C – 6’1, 195lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 164th overall, 2003
Oulahen’s good attitude and gritty play have earned him respect and a leadership role for the Griffins. However, it would appear that his statistic and defensive play are not enough to gain him time in the NHL. In his fourth season at the AHL level Oulahen has 10 points in 30 games. Realistically, he will continue his season with the Griffins as captain and possibly be signed to a minor pro deal in the future.
Jakub Kindl, D – 6’3, 206lbs
Acquired: 1st round, 19th overall, 2005
The highly-touted prospect for the Wings entered this season looking to bounce back from a disappointing rookie season. Kindl had a league low minus 34 rating and was only able to post 17 points in 75 games.
While Kindl has still struggled to stay on the plus side, his play has certainly seen an improvement. In his sophomore season the smooth skating defensemen has spent a great deal of time quarterbacking the Griffins top powerplay. His defensive play and defensive zone awareness have also improved. Further, Kindl has already surpassed his point total from last season, registering 20 points in 30 games.
Jonathan Ericsson, D – 6’5, 220lbs
Acquired: 9th round, 291st overall, 2002
Ericsson is the Red Wings’ most NHL-ready defensemen playing for the Griffins. He entered the 2008-2009 season in a leadership role with the club, being one of their veteran defensemen. Ericsson received a call-up to the Wings last season for eight games, and looked to bring that experience with him to the Griffins.
It would appear that a mixture of possible complacency and nagging injuries have caused Ericsson to have a mediocre season. He has only been able to gain seven assists in 22 games, projected to have a slightly lower point total than last season. Though, it should be said that Ericsson is more known for his strong play along the boards and outlet passing. He will continue to push to better his season, as he will likely battle for a spot in Detroit next season.
Logan Pyett, D – 5’10, 205lbs
Acquired: 7th round, 212th overall, 2006
The puck-moving defenseman from Saskatchewan began his rookie season with the Griffins looking to continue his offensive ways. The near point-per-game pace Pyett saw as a Regina Pat, however, has not transitioned to his AHL play. In 22 games with the Griffins, Pyett has gained seven assists. All things considered, Pyett has played fairly well, staying out of the box and steadily improving his defensive zone play.
Sergei Kolosov, D – 6’4, 210lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 151st overall, 2004
Kolosov has been known as a bit of a project player in the Wings system. They had high hopes that the Belarusian would grow into his 6’4 frame and play with a mean streak. While he has continued his aggressive play, he is prone to defensive lapses from time to time. This has played Kolosov out of the starting line-up, as he has served as a healthy scratch in several games this season. He will have to strengthen his physical frame and defensive play if he hopes to play in the winged wheel one day.
Jimmy Howard, G – 6’1, 208lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 64th overall, 2003
Howard has been considered the future goaltender of the Detroit Red Wings for quite some time, but has been plagued with inconsistency during his time in Grand Rapids. Coming into the 2008-09 season Howard was set to prove that he could have a strong finish to his AHL career in anticipation of his call-up with the Red Wings next season.
However, this season is no different as Howard has shown his usual flashes of brilliance, but has struggled as well. He has, for the most part, been outplayed with rookie goaltender Daniel Larsson. A recent string of strong games by the Griffins and Howard have brought his statistics back up to a respectable 2.68 GAA and .900 save percentage.
One bright spot for Howard is that during a disastrous month for the Red Wings last season he was able to play four games and attained a 2.13 GAA and .926 save percentage. He looked very sharp during the stretch where the Wings were missing most of their key defensemen. The expected place for Howard next season will be as the back-up goaltender for Detroit.
Daniel Larsson, G – 6’0, 180lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 92nd overall, 2006
As the goaltender for the Djurgardens club Larsson earned the award for rookie of the year and in the process raised the bar for himself. After his very strong season in the SEL, Daniel Larsson came to the Grand Rapids Griffins looking to prove that he could play against North American players and play on North American ice rinks.
Larsson has indeed made a very smooth transition this season, splitting games with Howard evenly. So far, Larsson has been able to outplay the AHL veteran Howard throughout the season. He is posting a very respectable 2.58 GAA and .913 save percentage in his rookie season with the Griffins. He will likely serve as the starting goaltender for the Griffins next season, with Howard getting his call up to play with the Wings.