The Detroit Red Wings have been the model organization for drafting and developing talent. The Grand Rapids Griffins are the training ground for the big club defined by a similar puck-control style of play. Prospects graduate once they’re completely prepared to fit into the NHL level of hockey and Red Wings rarely make the mistake of rushing their prospects along. Of course the success of the NHL club allows this to take place but it definitely is a key component of the organizational blueprint. The Griffins are designed for development with success in the standings a nice reward, not necessarily the goal. The current Griffins squad guided by third-year head coach Curt Fraser has roster stability, with a number of prospects earmarked as future Red Wings. This season they finished with a 36-34-2-8 record just missing out on a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The ECHL‘s Toledo Walleye fell short of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 33-33-4-2 record. Thomas McCallum and Brian Lashoff dressed for a handful of games with the Walleye who really underline their role as an injury rehab or conditioning refuge for the Griffins, occasionally promoting players such as goaltender Jordan Pearce but mostly as short-term fill-ins when call-ups and injury situations impact the AHL affiliate such as the case with defenseman Sebastien Piche.
Joakim Andersson, C, 22
This has been a season of transition for the first-year pro as he adjusts to North American life and hockey. Another prospect mined out of Sweden under the watchful eye of super scout Hakan Andersson, the 6’2 198-pound center offers a solid game in all three zones, has good size, plays a physical game, and has a great work ethic. Next season he should display more of his scoring touch and look to improve on the seven goals and 15 assists he put up with the Griffins. The attention he pays to defense, evidenced by his even plus/minus rating, will give him an opportunity to take on a checking center role if required in the future. Foot speed and mobility are the two areas of his game which need attention and could really add to his overall improvement. He’ll be back with Grand Rapids next season and will be given the opportunity for more ice team in an expanded role.
William Coetzee, RW, 21
Signed as an undrafted free-agent from the Red Deer Rebels, the 5’10 180-pound Coetzee had a challenging initiation to pro hockey. Often a game-day scratch, the Maple Ridge BC native managed five assists in 25 games with the Griffins before being sent to Toledo to get some ice time and an opportunity to show of his skills – quickness, a good shot and excellent offensive instincts. With the Walleye he scored nine goals and 11 assists in 36 ECHL games before being promoted to the Griffins for the end of the season. There is no denying he absolutely has to get stronger and round out the defensive end of his game in order to have a long-term impact. He appears to have the work ethic and his commitment to being physically ready for next season will go a long way towards demonstrating he’s prepared to do what it takes to earn a roster spot and contribute at the AHL level.
Cory Emmerton, C/LW, 22
Drafted in the second round back in 2006, the highly-skilled Emmerton began the current campaign with a purpose and in the end produced another pedestrian season contributing 12 goals, 26 assists and a minus-one rating in 65 AHL games. All the pieces appear present for him to flourish – good speed and vision, excellent offensive creativity and awareness of his defensive responsibilities – but the production just doesn’t measure up to the skill level. The 6′ 190-pound forward did get a two-game call-up in January and responded with his first NHL goal against the Black Hawks. Due to become a restricted free agent this summer, he was re-signed to a new three-year deal with the first season a two-way deal and the final two years one-way; a clear message the organization has faith in him and plan to give him a real opportunity to make the Red Wings roster this fall as a bottom six forward.
Jan Mursak, RW/LW, 23
The 5’11 184-pound native of Slovenia has outstanding speed and stick-handling ability which are arguably the best among the Red Wings’ prospects. Mursak has improved over the course of his three seasons with the Griffins earning him an extended audition in the NHL this year where he suited up for 19 games and scored his first NHL goal. The skill level and work ethic are definitely there along with the willingness to play physical. Although he could still stand to get stronger, the organization was impressed with his progress and the way he carried himself last season. Signed to a new two-year one-way contact in February, the shifty winger spent the playoffs with the Red Wings’ Black Aces and will be looking to crack the big club roster along with fellow 2006 draftee Emmerton. Next season he will be expected to provide energy with his superior skating ability as a forechecker and penalty-killer as they slowly ease him into the lineup. Mursak’s offensive upside could eventually land him in a top-six forward role.
Gustav Nyquist, C, 21
The Red Wings organization is very high on their recent signee who had just completed his junior season with the U. of Maine. Originally drafted out of the Malmö club in Sweden, he was a Hobey Baker candidate in each of the last two seasons. The intense Nyquist totaled a goal and three assists in eight games with the Griffins following another impressive campaign in the Hockey East with the Black Bears where he totaled 19 goals and 33 assists. The hard-working Swede always keeps his feet moving and offers a full array of fine offensive skills that are equaled by his persistence and determination. His mental make-up and strong two-way game are an ideal fit for the Red Wings who project him to potentially fill either a second or third line role for the big club in the future. Next season will find him in Grand Rapids looking to secure a center position on one of the scoring lines where adding strength to his 5’10 170-pound frame will give him an opportunity to progress further and eventually on to the NHL.
Francis Pare, C/RW, 23
Pare has continued to post good numbers with Grand Rapids finishing this season fourth in team scoring with 24 goals and 30 assists while playing his usual smart game. The 5’10 188-pound third year pro has an offensive-mindset, with nice hands, good vision and an accurate, hard shot. Formerly a QMJHL Most Valuable Player and First Team All-Star, he will need to continue improving on his offensive totals and look to overcome his weaknesses – below average skating, especially his first step explosiveness, less than ideal size, and streaky tendencies – in order to have a shot at the next level. Provided Pare and the Red Wings can come to an agreement on a new contact this summer, he’ll need to challenge himself to diversify his game and continue to impress on the offensive end in order to earn a call-up opportunity next season.
Brent Raedeke, C/LW, 21
Matching the player profile defined by fast-skating and a hard-working character desired by the Red Wings, Raedeke completed his first pro season with Grand Rapids fitting in comfortably and endearing himself to the organization. The native of Regina SK will not wow anyone with his scoring statistics evidenced by his modest eight goals, five assists and minus-three rating in 67 games this season. Where he does impress his coaches and teammates is in his desire, hustle, and skating prowess coupled with his faceoff skill and fearlessness which project him as a checking center and penalty killing role. The free-agent signee out of the WHL will need more seasoning with the Griffins next season and look to find more offense to round out his game.
Tomas Tatar, C/LW, 20
The 20-year old Tatar has already completed two seasons of pro hockey and continues to distinguish himself as the top forward prospect in the Red Wings organization. The Slovakian native finished second on the Griffins in scoring with 24 goals, 33 assists and an impressive plus-14 in 70 games this season. To top off the season, he received a nine game call-up to Detroit and scored his first NHL goal while not looking out of place. Starting with his speed, skills and ability to read the play to his great attitude and work ethic, there is very little not to like about him. The only knocks are his upper-body strength and his 5’10 179-pound size which is on the small side relative to many big leaguers. Nothing is expected to hold him back though and he should be in line for a roster spot with the big club with a good training camp. The game plan is typical for Detroit as they will likely ease him into the lineup next season with the intent of moving him up into a top six role over the following two seasons.
Travis Ehrhardt, D, 22
The 6′ 204-pound Calgary native showed improvement this season in Grand Rapids playing more minutes and while still mostly a bottom-pairing defensemen showed some versatility by playing a few games on the wing. Although the second year pro likely has a ceiling as an AHL top-four defenseman, he’s a good skater with decent size and a crisp first-pass who checked in with a four goal, 11-assist clip and an even plus/minus with the Griffins this season. Ehrhardt plays a simple game and needs to improve his decision-making in order to produce more on the offensive end at the professional level. Defensively he holds his own and does not shy away from physical play. Signed for next season, he’ll need to develop his game further in the AHL.
Sergei Kolosov, D, 25
Earmarked as a shut-down defenseman, the rangy Russian has simply not played near to the level expected of him this season. Never expected to put up big points, his one assist and minus-19 rating this season in 56 AHL games was underwhelming for the rangy 6’4 217-pounder. A former fifth round pick, he was counted on to supply some physicality and aggressiveness to the Griffins back-line and while the occasional glimpse of toughness emerged, it wasn’t close to the level he needs to be at. With the puck he plays a safe game, making mostly sound decisions and showing decent mobility. While he is dependable to an extent, he may not have shown the organization enough to invest a new contract in.
Brian Lashoff, D, 20
The Red Wings have done a good job of identifying free agents undrafted out of the junior ranks to supplement their draft picks. The 6’3 208-pounder was signed out of the OHL and has at the tools needed to develop into a two-way defenseman. This season was his third stint with Grand Rapids as he previously joined the Griffins on an amateur tryout following the last two campaigns with the Kingston Frontenacs. As is the case with many players, his first year in pro hockey was a challenge; first finding ice time and then sidelined by a couple of injuries for extended periods. Lashoff was sent to Toledo for a brief spell to get some playing time and finished with a combined four assists in 40 games between the AHL and ECHL. The organization feels they have a diamond in the rough given his mobility and puck-moving ability combined with his potential as a defensive stopper based on size and defensive aptitude. The future appears bright for Lashoff and next season he will be given an opportunity to show the organization more of what he can do with the Griffins.
Sebastien Piche, D, 23
The 6′ 194-pound offensive defenseman is now in his second professional year with the organization and spent the majority of the season with the Toledo Walleye scoring 12 goals and adding another 21 assists in just 48 games. An adept puck-mover, he also played 11 games in Grand Rapids adding two assists. The defensive side of his game is adequate and he’s a willing defender but he absolutely needs to improve his skating and positioning without the puck to make a strong case for a spot on the Griffin’s crowded blue line. Signed as a free-agent out of the QMJHL, the Evain PQ native has done nothing but play on winning teams so his pedigree blends well with that of Detroit. Next season is his opportunity to make the jump to the AHL and continue progressing to the next stage in his development.
Logan Pyett, D, 23
Pyett was looking to build on his impressive second season with Grand Rapids and seems instead to have stalled. Although his nine goals and 13 assists ranked him third among Griffin blueliners, they aren’t close to the offensive numbers expected from him. While still capable of developing into the third pairing defensemen the Red Wings envisioned when they drafted him, he does need to put his good speed and vision and other offensive abilities on display more consistently. Considered small for a defenseman given his 5’10 200-pound frame, he is sturdy, capable of handling most forwards physically, and positions himself well in the defensive end. He’ll be looking for a new contact this summer as a restricted free agent and will likely return to the Griffins. With some regained confidence and a good season offensively, he could very well position him for a future opportunity with the big club.
Bryan Rufenach, D, 22
The Red Wings seventh round draft pick in 2007, the recent graduate of Clarkson University joined the Toledo Walleye on an amateur tryout basis and contributed one goal, one assist, and a solid plus-eight rating in six games. Projected as a smooth-skating, offensive defenseman, he had a less-than-stellar senior season contributing four goals and seven assists which were less than his production the previous two campaigns. While the 6′ 187-pound Cameron ON native has offensive upside it’s tempered with his lack of defensive awareness and poor decision-making and like many players aspiring to become a professional hockey player must get stronger. At his point it’s unknown whether the Red Wings will sign him to a contact as they have until August 15th or he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Brendan Smith, D, 22
It was a bit of a wait but the top prospect of the Red Wings didn’t disappoint in his first season in pro hockey. The former first round pick’s season with Grand Rapids was almost exactly what he and the organization were hoping for. The 6’2 190-pound was second among Griffin’s defensemen and fifth among AHL rookie blue-liners in scoring with 12 goals and 20 assists, a plus-eight rating, and 124 penalty minutes. The projected future quarterback of the Red Wings plays with poise, a high-end skill package and is very competitive. There are some character concerns from his time in college and he needs to become more selective in his pinching decisions but overall the long-term prospects for Smith look great. Ideally he will spend next season honing his skills in the AHL specifically concentrating on improved play in the defensive zone. An audition with the big club will give him a taste and he should aim for a permanent spot in the NHL the following season.
Thomas McCollum, G, 21
McCollum was anointed the Red Wings goaltender of the future when he was drafted in the first round in 2008 with the understanding it would take him some time to develop. After a mediocre first season in the pros spent mostly with the Griffins, the 6’2 210-pound butterfly goalie split this year between Grand Rapids and Toledo. The season began as expected for McCollum but he was demoted to Toledo before the end of the calendar year when it appeared his confidence disappeared. By the end of the season he was back in Grand Rapids and had a number of emergency call-ups to Detroit which resulted in his first NHL action albeit 15 minutes of mop-up duty during which he surrendered three goals. His season totals in 22 AHL games was a 6-12-2 record, a 3.33 goals against average, a .879 save percentage, and one shutout. In the ECHL with the Walleye he posted better numbers sporting an 11-9-2 record, 2.76 goals against average, .909 save percentage, and three shutouts in 23 contests. His attributes – sound positioning, good reflexes, competitiveness and size – are still there but he needs to regain his mojo, work on his mental makeup, and improve his lateral movement. With a renewed outlook and a serious commitment to improve, the opportunity is there to get his development back on track. A bounce-back season with Griffins next campaign is needed where he’s now in the position where he will need to earn back the starting position.
Jordan Pearce, G, 24
The dependable 6’1 201-pound Pearce was the beneficiary of McCollum’s struggles, replacing him in Grand Rapids and turning in a very impressive 20-15-5 record, 2.89 goals against average, a .908 save percentage and one shutout after he began the season getting into eight games with Toledo with a less than stellar 4.13 goals against average. The native of Anchorage AK, originally signed as an undrafted college free agent, displays a calm demeanor and does not appear to get rattled which allows him to deal effectively with adversity. An exceptional student who spent four years at the University of Notre Dame and was known for coming through in the clutch, he uses his size to his advantage and is willing and capable to improve the nuances required for his position. While he needs to work on his lateral movement, the starting goaltender position with the Griffins is now his and he appears to be on his way to a solid pro career.