If success of a franchise’s farm club is a good measure of the wealth of its prospects, the
Detroit Red Wings may be in good shape. With 48 points and a wining percentage of .686 through the first half, the
Grand Rapids Griffins have enjoyed the best start in team history. Thanks to breakout years from Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula,
the Griffins have averaged nearly four goals per game, boasting the most potent
offense in the AHL.
Of the Red Wings’ professional North American prospects, only three are defensemen. The remaining ten is comprised of seven forwards and three goalies. Beyond Brett Lebda, Detroit doesn’t have a defenseman ready to contribute. With injuries to two defensive starters in Detroit, the Wings
pipeline is depleted on defense.
The system is strong in goal, however. The recent addition of Jimmy Howard to
the club has led to a competitive atmosphere that is sure to keep the netminders sharp. Logan Koopmans, the only
Wings prospect currently playing for the ECHL’s Toledo Storm, has the skill to pay in the AHL, but is log-jammed behind three goalies sharing duty in Grand Rapids.
The Red Wings have called up Howard to fill in for injured Chris Osgood, only recently swapping Howard for veteran Griffin Joey McDonald to fill in for
Manny Legace, while Lebda continues to fill in for former Griffins star Niklas Kronwall. The Griffins’ Hudler,
Filppula and Kyle Quincey have each logged time with in Detroit as well.
Jiri Hudler, LW, 5’10, 180lbs
In his third year with Grand Rapids, Hudler has rebounded nicely from an
mediocre sophomore season and leads the Griffins with 17 goals and 27 assists in
31 games. Hudler has averaged better than 1.4 points per game and is third overall in scoring for the AHL. The young Czech, Detroit’s
first choice (58th overall) in the 2002, is making a strong argument for being the Red Wings’
Hudler is an intelligent playmaker; he sees the ice well and executes perfect passes. An elusive stick handler with a hard accurate shot, Hudler possesses the high-end offensive skill that makes him a scoring threat nearly every time he touches the puck. His defensive awareness and his
faceoff ability, however, can stand improvement. Hudler’s skating isn’t impressive. He has only average speed for the AHL, which may be an issue when playing stronger and faster NHL defensemen.
Hudler, though an exceptional offensive talent and top-line prospect, may not find a permanent place with parent club this season or next. Yet, at only 22, Hudler is one of the youngest players on the Griffins and has time make the next level.
Valtteri Filppula, LW, 5’11, 202lbs
Detroit’s third choice in 2002, Filppula, is making an impact with Grand Rapids this season, his first in North America. Huddler’s 32 points in 31 games places him
third amongst teammates and 16th in the league in scoring. Filppula scored 30 points with Jokerit of the Finish Elite League before signing a
three-year contract with Detroit in August and impressing Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock at the Wings training camp in October.
Filppula has adjusted well to smaller rinks and more physical play and is becoming the
third or fourth line grinder Detroit needs on its roster. He is an excellent skater with above average stickhandling ability and has good vision. Filppula will get call-ups to Detroit this year. He has the talent to be a top scorer in the AHL, but projects as a
third or fourth line forward (with above average offensive production) in the NHL.
Tomas Kopecky, C, 6’3, 205 lbs
This season is important for Kopecky, who signed a one-year contract with Detroit in the
offseason after three years in the system. Kopecky has under-produced in previous
years, netting only 66 points in 166 games in the AHL. In his fourth season as a pro and
fourth with the Griffins, the Slovakian center has 26 points in 34 contests this season.
The Wings chose Kopecky 38th overall in the 2000 draft. He has the offensive skill and size to compete in the NHL, but has not developed his overall game as a professional. Kopecky has a hard shot and is a capable at carrying the puck through traffic. In 2004-05, he tied for fourth in the AHL for
shootout goals despite being sidelined by a broken finger for 27 games.
Kopecky is on pace to record his best season as a pro. Stepping up his physical game was vital. Kopecky has a limited offensive ability at the NHL level, but can contribute if he learns to use his size and puckhandling ability to agitate opposing forwards and increase his defensive play.
Matt Ellis, C, 6’1, 210lbs
The 23-year-old center is in his fourth year as a pro and
third as a Griffin. Being the best two-way center in Grand Rapids last season helped Ellis secure a two-year contract with the Wings in August. In 2004-05, Ellis was the
third leading scorer on the team with 18 goals 23 assist and 41 points. This year he looks to improve his numbers with 20 points in the first 33 games. Ellis, a defensive minded forward, has increased offensive production in each of his seasons in Grand Rapids.
Ellis may have a limited offensive upside at the NHL level, but is a
strong penalty killer and excellent forechecker. He is well respected on and off the ice and has the work ethic that makes him leader among his teammates. Ellis’ determination and maturity has aided his consistent play and improvement. Originally signed by the Wings in 2002 as a free agent, Ellis has needs to improve his speed and physical play to make a third or fourth line in Detroit.
Kyle Quincey, D, 6’1, 215lbs
The former Mississauga Ice Dog began his professional career with Grand Rapids this year, after being
selected 132nd overall by Detroit in 2003. Quincey is currently a +6 with 19 points in 33 games, making him the Griffins’ top scoring
defenseman. He is among the leaders in scoring for AHL rookie defensemen, 13th overall. A star OHL defenseman in 2004-05, Quincey played in the
ADT challenge, OHL all-star game and was a final cut from the WJC team.
Quincey plays a smart and disciplined game. He has the ability to kill penalties and run the power play. Offensively, he has a great shot and makes smart, well-timed passes. Though he is projected to play a defensive-style game in NHL, Quincey keeps producing excellent numbers. So far his rookie season with Grand Rapids is no exception. Quincey has seen one brief call-up this season and may see more before the year is through.
Derek Meech, D, 5’11, 196lbs
Meech was Detroit’s seventh pick in 2002 (229th overall). Meech is an excellent skater, stick handler and breakout passer. He plays an intelligent game and positions himself well against swifter opponents. Meech, however, may have the pro-level skill but not the
produciton. Four of his nine points this season came in one game against the Cleveland Barons in December. With only
one goal and eight assists, Meech is on pace to only slightly exceed last season’s unimpressive total of 14 points.
His aggressive, physical play, however, has made him an asset on the Griffins’ blue line and often logs top-four ice time. Despite his lack of offensive production, Meech is very capable of smart defense. He reads plays well and is disciplined in his own zone. Meech may have the potential to be depth player in the NHL, but will have to learn to use his skill to produce offensive opportunities.
Ryan Oulahen, LW, 6’0, 185lbs
The former Brampton center was recognized as the most underrated player, hardest worker, best penalty killer, and voted second best defensive forward in the 2004-05 coaches poll. Currently in his rookie season in Grand Rapids, Oulahen has 4 goals and 15 assists in the first 30 games and is
third on the Griffins for rookie scoring.
The 20-year-old forward was chosen in the third round (163 overall) in the 2003 draft and signed a three-year contract last July. Oulahen is two-way forward with a limited offensive up side. He contributes with solid positioning and hard work and routinely wins
faceoffs. Oulahen isn’t out of place facing the opposing team’s top line, but at 185lbs, he will have to add strength before making the leap to the NHL.
Eric Himelfarb, RW, 5’9, 175lbs
The Red Wings signed Himelfarb as a free agent in 2004, hoping his offensive flare was enough to compensate for his small stature. With 46 points in 76 games in 2004-05, Himelfarb was among the AHL leaders in rookie scoring. This season, however, Himelfarb was sidelined with a broken finger. He has played in only 19 of the 34 contests this year and has netted only 2 goals and 6 assists.
Himelfarb is a playmaker with impressive offensive skill. He is fast, and agile, yet his size is a concern. Himelfarb needs to rebound in the second half of the season. He has the skill set to be a top-line forward but has to first show he can play against stronger opponents.
Brett Lebda, D, 5’11, 194lbs
Starting the season in Detroit, Lebda made the jump to the NHL far sooner than most predicted. In his sophomore season as a professional, the former Notre Dame
defenseman has nine points in his 23 starts as a Red Wing. Amazingly, Lebda has recorded a
+10, second among defensemen in Detroit. He has also played 11 games for
Grand Rapids, with seven points.
An excellent skater and stickhandler, Lebda has a hard and accurate shot and is a capable on the power play. Lebda has the skill to contribute offensively in any situation. Despite Lebda’s talent, he needs to add a physical element to his game. His defensive game will improve when he gains strength. He needs to follow through on checks and add a physical element to his offensive arsenal.
Lebda remains in Detroit for the injured Kronwall. Though he will probably be reassigned to Grand Rapids when Kronwall is taken off the IR, Lebda has shown he isn’t out of place in the NHL and will log top-four ice time for the Griffins upon his return.
Todd Jackson, RW, 5’11, 185lbs
Chosen in the 10th round (251st) in the 2000 entry draft, the 24-year-old is in his sophomore season as a pro. His rookie year (2004-05) was split between the Toledo Storm (35
games) and the AHL Griffins (30 games). Jackson posted 25 points for the Storm but only three for the Griffins. This season, Jackson started in Toledo but was quickly
called up by Grand Rapids in November. He played only five games, posting single assist before sidelined by injury. Jackson remains on the Griffins’ IR list.
Jackson is a highly skilled skater. His intelligence and good vision for the game afford him the tools to kill penalties. His work ethic has helped make the jump to
the AHL this season, but he needs to add a physical element and improve his offensive numbers to earn a regular spot in Grand Rapids.
Drew MacIntyre, G 6’1, 185lbs
Chosen 121st overall in 2001, Drew MacIntyre has started 12 games Grand Rapids year, posting
eight wins and a 2.53 GAA. MacIntyre’s .908 save percentage is the best among the three goalies fighting for the Griffins’ top position this season.
MacIntyre doesn’t excite easily and is able to maintain composure throughout a game. As a standup goalie, he uses his size to position himself in the net. MacIntyre has improved his numbers this year, but fierce competition will limit the number of minutes he plays this season.
Logan Koopmans, G, 6’2, 182 lbs
Koopmans was Detroit’s fifth round choice in 2002 (166 overall). In
2004-05, his first year as a pro, Koopmans backed up veteran Scott Fankhouser for Toledo of the ECHL. This year Koopmans is ready to assume the Storm’s starting position and was expected to. Suffering his second injuring of the year in early December, however, Koopmans remains on Toledo’s
30-day IR. He has only played in eight contests this season. In four wins in five games, Koopmans has a GAA of 3.19 and a .912 save percentage.
Koopmans is a hybrid goalie, who knows when to play down on the ice and when to stand in the net. He is an intelligent goalie who is adept at anticipating puck movement. Koopmans has an excellent work ethic and is dedicated to improving his game. After establishing a starting role in Toledo, Koopmans will be able begin the slow climb up the Red Wings long depth chart.
Jimmy Howard, G, 6’0, 215lbs
This year, Howard has posted a .912 save percentage a 2.52 GAA in 10 games
with Grand Rapids. The Red Wings’ first pick (64th overall) in 2003 entry draft was a decorated
netminder with the University of Maine last season, posting a 1.92 GAA and .924 save percentage. Howard has been called up and
reassigned by Detroit four times in the first half of this season and has an NHL record of
1-2 with a 2.99 GAA and .906 save percentage.
The most talented of the Red Wing goalie prospects, Howard is fundamentally sound and thrives on the big game atmosphere. Though he has been criticized for being inconsistent, he is known to perform well in clutch situations.
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