Grand Rapids season preview

By Iaian Park






Grand Rapid Griffins season preview

After finishing second in the West division with 96 points
in 2003-04, the Chicago Wolves swept the Griffins in four games in the Division
Semifinal playoff series. The Griffins will look to improve on their early exit
last year. With strong goaltending, a solid blueline and depth at forward, the
Griffins, on paper, look like they are built to go deep into the playoffs.

 

With 14 returning players the Griffins should have the
leadership and experience, and adding to that three new faces with professional
hockey experience and the Griffins should make life difficult for opposing
teams.

 

Goaltending

 

Having finished in the top 10 in the league last year in
wins, goals against average and save percentage, 24-year-old Joey MacDonald has
clearly arrived. After splitting last year with Marc Lamothe, MacDonald will be
Grand Rapids’ No. 1 this year with the departure of Lamothe to
Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the Russian
league
. MacDonald has had only one season, his first in the QMJHL,
in which his goals against average has been over 3.00 and his save percentage
has been below .900, with his best career numbers coming last year.

 

Sharing the goaltending duties with MacDonald will be
21-year-old Drew MacIntyre.
MacIntyre comes to Grand Rapids from the Toledo Storm of the ECHL. With
the Storm, MacIntyre, posted very good numbers with a 2.61 goals against
average, a .919 save percentage and 6 wins in 11 games.

 

Additions: Drew MacIntyre

Departures: Marc Lamothe

 

Defense

 

After finishing fourth in the league in goals against, only
giving up a stingy 166 goals against, the Griffins return the core of their
defense unit. With five returning
players, this should be a strength of the Griffins. Rookie Derek Meech
and Bryan Helmer join the unit.

 

Anchoring the blueline this year is Detroit’s top defensive
prospect, Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall put up 5 points with the big club
playing 20 games with the Red Wings before breaking his leg and missing the
last 33 games of the regular season. He was the Red Wings first round
pick (29th overall) in 2000.

 

Danny Groulx was given the opportunity to play
as a top 4 defenseman last year with Grand Rapids and it paid off as he posted
21 points and led the team with a +20 rating.
Looking to build on those numbers will be the challenge for Groulx if he
wants to continue to be successful at this level. He will need to improve his skating if he hopes to make it beyond
the AHL.

 

Making his professional debut this year on the blueline
for the Griffins is Red Deer Rebel standout Derek Meech. Meech, who won a
Memorial Cup in his rookie season with the Rebels, is an offensively gifted
defenseman. He finished off his junior career as captain of the Rebels and with
an appearance at the World Juniors where he was paired with Red Deer partner Dion
Phaneuf
. Watch for Meech to improve
as he adjusts to the pro style game.

 

Additions: Bryan Helmer, Derek Meech

Departures: Andres Myrvold, Dave Van Drunen, Aaron
Schneekloth, Ryan Bonni

 

 

Forwards

 

Returning to the Griffins this year is the club’s second
overall points leader last year right-winger Nathan Robinson. With 50
points last year, 24 of those goals, in only 69 games, watch for Robinson to be
a leader in the point’s category again.
Although not big in size, Robinson has been blessed with blazing speed, which
creates many scoring opportunities for him. Also returning is Detroit’s top
center prospect, Jiri Hudler.
Detroit’s first round pick in 2002, Hudler split time between the Red
Wings (12 games) and Grand Rapids.
While only playing in 57 games with the Griffins, Hudler put up 49
points and finished second on the team with a +16 rating. He also made the
2003-04
AHL PlanetUSA All-Star Team.

 

After a disappointing and injury plagued season,
right wing Tomas Kopecky will need to step up his play this year. Only
playing in 48 games last year, Kopecky posted a disappointing 12 points and
finished with a -3 rating. He only appeared in one playoff game for the
Griffins last year and was a healthy scratch in several games. Boasting a good
shot and stickhandling ability, Kopecky needs to be more consistent to be
effective to play at this level.

 

Eric Himelfarb,
who played just seven regular season games and the playoffs with the Griffins
last year made an impact on a line with Hudler and Kevin Miller posting 10 points.
Before joining Grand Rapids, Himelfarb played with Kingston in the OHL, scoring
37 goals and posting an incredible 107 points. Good enough for fourth in the
league in scoring. That was his fourth 30-goal season in the OHL. Himelfarb was
voted one of OHL’s top-three skaters, faceoff men and most dangerous in the
goal area in a coaches poll.

 

A fresh face up front this year will be
right-winger Todd Jackson. Jackson, coming off a career season with the
University of Maine where he was the team’s captain, posted career high numbers
in points will have his first taste of the professional game. Voted Hockey
East’s best defensive forward, Jackson will have to carry that aspect of his
game over to the professional level to be successful.

 

Additions: Todd Jackson, Pete Vandermeer and
Eric Manlow

Departures: Michel Picard, Kevin Miller, Jeff
Nelson, Derek King, Hugo Boisvert

 

Outlook

 

Clearly the bar has been raised this year in
Grand Rapids. After a disappointing
sweep in the first round of playoffs last year, expectations will be a lot
higher this year. With the NHL lockout
the Griffins will have the services of Kronwall, Hudler and Robinson full-time.
This will benefit the Griffins as last season’s point leader Michel Picard will
need to be replaced.

 

Matt MacInnis contributed to this article. Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the
editorial staff.