Detroit Red Wings defensive prospect Kyle Quincey is finding plenty of success in his rookie season with the club’s minor league affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
With an impressive collection of youth and talent, the Griffins have played their way into first place in the Western Conference’s North Division (41-15-1-4, 87 points), and the 20-year-old is a big part of the reason why.
Before joining Grand Rapids, the 6’2, 215-pounder was a star defenseman for the OHL’s Mississauga Ice Dogs, and served as alternate captain last season. He scored 46 points in helping the team to a Central Division title while still being voted “Best Defensive Defenseman” in the OHL’s Eastern Conference Coaches Poll.
This season, Quincey is contributing both offensively (24 points) and defensively (+8 rating) on a very young blue line. As one of five defensemen age 23 or younger, the rookie has logged plenty of ice time in all situations, making the transition from junior to pro hockey that much smoother for him.
“It’s not too hard,” he said. “This team has certainly helped make the transition easier because they gave me a lot of ice early, so I could transfer the momentum I had in the OHL over to here. I mean, the guys are bigger and stronger and it’s just a quicker game, and I knew that coming in, so I trained that much harder during the summer and got myself ready.”
Head coach Greg Ireland has played Quincey in all situations, from running the power play, to being a top penalty killer. Although he is the youngest player on the Griffins roster, he’s played with the poise and confidence of a veteran.
“We’re a young team on the back end,” Ireland said. “We’ve got a lot of assets up front, a lot of veterans, but we’re very young on the back end. We’ve got four rookies and one second-year guy out of six, so he’s got a lot of responsibility in terms of a first year guy in this league. Not many guys get that opportunity and he’s handled it very well. He has the ability to be a go-to guy at this level now, and whether he can push onto the NHL will obviously be determined by how he handles his role here.”
Clay Wilson, 21, and Nick Martens, 23, are rookies alongside Quincey.
“It’s not just me making the transition, it’s also two or three other guys, so it’s easy that way,” he said.
Quincey is a valuable commodity because he is skilled on both sides of the puck. He scored 103 points in 189 OHL games, and has continued his offensive production this season. While his numbers may deceive people into thinking he’s an offensive defenseman, he knows that when he lands in Detroit, he’ll be counted upon for his defense.
“I kind of play within whatever role they give me (in the AHL),” he said. “They put me in an offensive role on the power play and I tried to take advantage of it, so I can kind of do both, but I know at the next level, I’m going to be more of a defensive guy, so I still take care of my own zone, that’s the most important thing.”
Ireland is impressed with what his rookie backliner has brought to the table thus far, and thinks he has all the qualities to bring him success in the future.
“He’s still a young defenseman,” he said. “He’s got to grow within himself to be an American League defenseman and play at the next level. But I think he’s got a lot of abilities. He’s a big strong kid who works hard.
“I think the biggest factor he has in his favor, though, is that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get into the National Hockey League. He works hard on and off the ice, he understands the game very well, he has the ability to play very well defensively without the puck, and he can move the puck, and he’s got a big shot on the offensive side of things as well, so he makes things happen with that.”
Quincey got a quick taste of the NHL earlier this season. He got the call in late November due to a groin injury to Jason Woolley and following the collapse of Jiri Fischer on the team bench.
“We were in Winnipeg and I was watching the game and that was a very difficult situation,” he said. “Fischer had gone down, and Woolley was also hurt, so I went up for the one game, and then Woolley came back, so I got sent back down, so I was up for about a week.”
The first-year defenseman logged over 11 minutes of ice time in his first game against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, but said the greatest challenge was overcoming how nervous he felt.
“That was the biggest thing,” he said. “The game itself isn’t really that much different except, for me, the nerves. That was my biggest obstacle in that game was just getting over the nerves, so my next game will hopefully be better and there’ll be less nerves.”
Whether or not Quincey gets another chance in the NHL this season remains to be seen. But with the way he is developing in Grand Rapids, it looks like he’ll be an NHL-caliber player sooner rather than later. For now, he is concentrating on continuing his success at the AHL level, and hopes to be a part of a championship team.
“We’re just going to take one game at a time,” he said of the Griffins approach as the regular season winds down. “I mean, obviously every guy in here wants to win a championship, so we’re going through a bit of a tough spot right now and, we just want to take it game by game, and we hope to win enough games to get ourselves home-ice advantage in the playoffs, and just keep doing well.”
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