Red Wings 2008-09 AHL/ECHL review

By Brandon Peleshok

The 2008-09 season was a complete turn-around for the Grand Rapids Griffins. After finishing last season outside the playoffs, the team was able to make it to the second round, knocked out by the Manitoba Moose. The team’s success was thanks in part to the 14 Red Wings prospects on it, including eight forwards, four defensemen and two goaltenders.

Forwards

Darren Helm, C – 5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 132nd overall, 2005

Helm started the 2008-09 season as the No. 1 center for the Griffins. His blazing speed and leadership skills boosted the Griffins, and he even saw a boost in offensive production. While he went through a bit of a mid-season slump, it can most likely be attributed to complacency. After putting up 24 points in 27 games, he finished off his season with 37 points in 55 games.

Helm is currently playing for the Red Wings in the post-season. He’s supplied energy and a physical edge for the team, playing on their third and fourth lines. He is almost a lock as a regular on the team during the 2009-10 season.

Ville Leino, LW – 6’1, 188lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2008

After being signed as a free agent during the summer of 2008, Leino came to the Red Wings training camp intent on impressing the club. Since then, he has shown himself to be a skilled winger with soft hands and an ability to protect the puck. Several mid-season injuries hindered Leino a bit, but he still finished his AHL season with a respectable 46 points in 57 games.

During the season Leino received a call-up from the Red Wings, where he displayed his offensive prowess by netting nine points in 13 games, despite spending a good portion of his time on the fourth line. Leino carried his success into the AHL playoffs, where he scored 13 points in ten games. He is currently travelling with the Red Wings and will be a RFA for the 2009-10 season.

Justin Abdelkader, LW – 6’2, 215lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2005

Abdelkader’s transition to the AHL from college hockey can be described as nothing less than a booming success. Known for his physical edge and leadership, he also maintained the scoring touch that he displayed during his time with Michigan State University. Even as a rookie, Abdelkader was often the Griffins most consistent contributor over the season, and received the role as an assistant captain for his efforts.

He carried over his offensive touch to the AHL playoffs as well, netting six goals in the ten games he played. After his Griffins were eliminated, Abdelkader received a call-up from the Red Wings. He was immediately put into the series after Kopecky suffered facial fractures in a fight. While it is possible Abdelkader could play for Detroit next season, he will most likely spend most of the year in the AHL as a call-up for the team.

Jan Mursak, RW – 5’11, 182lbs
Acquired: 6th round, 182nd overall, 2006

While several Griffins saw success in their first year, Mursak’s season didn’t go as well. He wasn’t able to impress the Griffins brass, receiving limited playing time and being scratched several times during the season. The point-per-game scoring touch he displayed as a member Belleville Bulls seemed to have disappeared, as he was only able to put up nine points in 51 games. Despite his struggles during the season, Mursak suited up for six playoff games with the Griffins and netted one assist. He will look to bounce back in the 2009-10 season.

Cory Emmerton, C – 5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 41st overall, 2006

Emmerton’s first year in the AHL went over a little more smoothly than Mursak’s. While he often struggled with injuries and ailments during his time in the OHL, Emmerton was able to play through a season that was virtually free of complications. Spending most of his time on a scoring line with the Griffins, he was able to score a respectable 35 points in 69 games. But his pace slowed down a bit in the post-season, as he was only able to tally one goal in nine games. Emmerton will look to have another healthy season in the AHL, while improving upon his offensive numbers.

Mattias Ritola, C – 5’11, 185lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 103rd overall, 2005

Ritola made great strides in his second season as a member of the Griffins. In his first season in the AHL, Ritola seemed to struggle with the physicality of the league, and was prone to taking bad penalties. In the 2008-09 season, he was able to nearly double his point total with 42 points in 66 games. Additionally, he cut his penalty minutes down from 62 to 32. Ritola has also shown that he is more apt to taking the body than he was last season. He will look to have another successful season with Grand Rapids, and will likely serve as a primary call-up for the Red Wings.

Evan McGrath, C – 6’0, 195lbs
Acquired: 4th round, 128th overall, 2004

The AHL veteran entered his third season as a member of the Griffins looking to find the scoring touch he once possessed in the OHL. After two disappointing season, McGrath finally started to look like the player he once was. His point totals climbed once again, as he finished the 2008-09 season with 47 points in 68 games. While it isn’t the same offensive output that he once demonstrated, it’s a step in the right direction. Next season will be telling in terms of where McGrath’s career goes.

Ryan Oulahen, C – 6’1, 195lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 164th overall, 2003

In his fourth season as a Griffin, Oulahen has remained consistent in terms of his production. He’s developed a leadership role in Grand Rapids, exhibiting gritty play and a tenacious forecheck. Though, his lack of production at the AHL level will likely impede his ability to become an NHL player. With the depth that the Wings possess, it is unlike the Oulahen will ever wear the winged wheel.

Defensemen

Jonathan Ericsson, D – 6’5, 220lbs
Acquired: 9th round, 291st overall, 2002

While he produced his lowest offensive totals during his time in the AHL, 15 points in 40 games this year, the 25-year-old Swede also exhibited that he is an NHL-caliber player when called up by the Red Wings due to injuries. 

Jakub Kindl, D – 6’3, 206lbs
Acquired: 1st round, 19th overall, 2005

Kindl has made great strides since his first season in the AHL. The puck-moving defenseman has been touted as the Red Wings top prospect for several years, and is looking like he could grow into that mold. He has tightened up several aspects of his game, most importantly his decisions regarding puck distribution.

After an abysmal –34 rating last season, Kindl finished the 2008-09 season at –14. He also improved upon his point total of 17, finishing this season with 33 points in 78 games. Kindl is still a long way from meeting his expectations, though, as his progress is certainly a bright spot. The Red Wings showed their faith in Kindl when they called him up as a black ace during their current playoff run.

Logan Pyett, D – 5’10, 205lbs
Acquired: 7th round, 212th overall, 2006

Pyett’s season in the AHL was a bit of a disappointment. Much like Mursak, he experienced a great deal of success in the OHL, but fell a bit flat during his year with the Griffins. The main obstacle hindering Pyett’s play has been the physicality of the AHL and his small stature. While he was nearly a point-per-game player in his junior career, he was only able to pot 14 points in 61 games with the Griffins. While he certainly had a rough year, Pyett still possesses a great deal of potential and can turn things around in the 2009-10 season.

Sergei Kolosov, D – 6’4, 210lbs
Acquired: 5th round, 151st overall, 2004

Kolosov was close to not receiving a contract with the Red Wings, but Griffins coach Fraser was able to convince the team that he was worth the risk. After coaching the Belarus team in the 2008 IIHF tournament, Fraser became confident that Kolosov could develop into a solid defensive defenseman. While he only scored 11 points in 70 games with the Griffins, the defensive play of Kolosov was exhibited throughout the season. While he’s not a highly-touted player, he could certainly turn out to be a sleeper in the organization.

Goaltenders

Jimmy Howard, G – 6’1, 208lbs
Acquired: 2nd round, 64th overall, 2003

Howard’s biggest issue throughout his AHL career has been his inability to stay consistent. The 2008-09 season was no different, as he started out very poorly, being shown up by rookie goaltender Larsson. Near the mid-point of the season Howard was able to attain a respectable 2.68 GAA and .900 save percentage, getting better as the season progressed and finishing out the season at 2.54 GAA and .916 save percentage.

During a rash of injuries, Howard received a one game call-up to the Red Wings. In the AHL, he reclaimed his role as the No. 1 goaltender, leading the Griffins into the AHL post-season. He put up a 2.41 GAA, .900 save percentage performance over ten games before getting knocked out of the post-season. Howard will likely play the 2009-10 season with the Red Wings as Chris Osgood’s backup.

Daniel Larsson, G – 6’0, 180lbs
Acquired: 3rd round, 92nd overall, 2006

Larsson made his AHL debut during the 2008-09 season after playing hockey in Sweden for the majority of his career. He exhibited his skill level during the early parts of the season, outplaying Howard and posting a 2.58 GAA and .913 save percentage. His play caused Griffins coach to split the games between Larsson and fellow goaltender Howard. However, the transition to North American hockey caught up with Larsson, and his conditioning failed him. He ended the season with a 2.76 GAA and .907 save percentage, with Howard taking over as the starter. If Larsson wants to find success as a Red Wings goaltender he will have to improve his conditioning so that he can play at a more consistent level.