As the Detroit Red Wings injury report grows increasing complex with every game, so does the Grand Rapids Griffins transactions page. The Griffins have faced very similar problems this season -- trying to figure out
This was probably the most newsworthy week that the Griffins had all season. The losses of Jonathan Ericsson and Darren Helm saw Kris Newbury and Doug Janik recalled to the NHL, two players who log big minutes every night in Grand Rapids. Additionally, the Wings' injury woes have seen Justin Abdelkader spend a total of zero minutes in the Griffins' uniform this season, while Brad May and Drew Miller are playing nightly in Detroit, two players who wouldn't be guaranteed to be the Wings' uniform if Detroit was completely healthy.
But that wasn't it for the week. The big news was that the Griffins landed what could possibly be the most talented player now in the AHL in Washington Capitals' forward Michael Nylander. Nylander was essentially run out of Washington for not living up to his big contract, which the Capitals found no luck unloaded onto another team. Nylander debuted with the Griffins earlier this season on a five game conditioning stint, but now appears poised to stick with the team for the remainder of the season. Not too many AHL clubs can say they have a 600 point, 900 game NHL player suiting up for them -- one just three years removed from his most productive NHL season when he put up 83 points with the New York Rangers.
This was just in time, as two players jumped ship to Europe. As expected, Tomas Tatar was released for three weeks to join Slovakia for the World Junior Championships, starting next week. He starred in the event last year, and it was no secret that Detroit had scouts at every single Slovakian game. In a move of the unanticipated variety, Dick Axelsson has complained of being homesick informed the Griffins that he would be returning to Sweden. Supposedly, this will just be for a few weeks, but many expect Axelsson will not return. Axelsson had not been scoring (five points in 17 games). He did not look interested during certain games, being benched for full periods and frequently scratched for Griffins' heavyweight fighter Paul Crosty.
Despite this, after starting the season 1-4, the Griffins have gone on a 16-6-1 tear as they've battled to climb out of the North Division cellar. They currently sit fourth (only the top four teams int he division make the playoffs) but are only six points back of first. The coaching of Curt Fraser has taken them far, as they're the highest scoring team in the conference and also among the bottom five in penalty minutes. The addition of Nylander and the continued emergence of Tatar will be crucial to their second half success.
This week, Friday Prospects features the remaining Griffins not yet profiled.
Sergei Kolosov, D, 23, 6'4, 217, drafted 5th round, 2004 -- Kolosov is a good example of why every prospect covered here is significant. For the longest time, he was overlooked and buried among other, stronger prospects. He never got much exposure, and wasn't expected to be signed. However, with the help of Coach Fraser, Kolosov was signed. Five years after being drafted, Kolosov is looking at an Olympic roster spot and is being billed in Detroit as the next Andreas Lilja.
As a 17 and 18-year-old, Kolosov spent two seasons as a regular with Dynamo Minsk (now a member of the KHL) in the top professional league in Belarus. That's about as impressive as it sounds -- Belarus doesn't produce many NHLers, and their professional league is not as impressive as other leagues in Europe. Despite this, Detroit picked him up in the 5th round.
Detroit wanted Kolosov to play major junior hockey in North America, and Kolosov was drafted by the WHL's Prince George Cougars, but had issues joining the team so he was kept in Belarus. The Cougars dropped his rights, and he was forced to spend the next two seasons in the less-skilled USHL with Cedar Rapids. A fine league, but he would have developed better in the WHL.
Following his overage season in the USHL, Detroit was hoping that Kolosov would sign with a team in the ECHL or UHL, so he could stay in North America. Kolosov instead returned to Belarus, in another move that set his development back. Detroit wasn't going to sign Kolosov, but Curt Fraser had just been hired by the Griffins. Fraser had just coached Kolosov at the World Championships for Belarus, and advised the Wings that Kolosov still had potential.
Kolosov has been nothing but impressive since joining Grand Rapids. After a rocky transition to the AHL, he really adjusted in the second half of the season and stepped up into a top four role on the Griffins in the absence of Jonathan Ericsson. He's carried his strong play into this season. His offensive upside is limited, with just three points on the season, but his game is very comparable to that of Andreas LIlja. He's physical, but not out of control. He's a penalty kill expert and blocks a lot of shots with his size. He's a capable puck handler and makes a good first pass. His contract his up after this season, but he seems to be on his way to getting a new one.
Jamie Tardif, RW, 24, 6'0, 200, signed as a free agent, 2008 -- A former scoring star in junior, Tardif is a good example of persistence and dedication to the game. Tardif has completely reformed his game, paying his dues rising to be one of the Griffins' top scorers.
Tardif played five seasons for the Peterborough Petes, scoring at about a point-per-game each year and hitting the 35 goal plateau twice. He was actually drafted by the Calgary Flames in 2003, but never earned a contract. Grand Rapids got a hold of him in 2006-07, scoring 15 points in 27 games in the AHL, and also 30 in 34 with the Toledo Storm.
In 2007-08, Tardif had a breakout season in Grand Rapids with 17 goals. He turned heads in Detroit all season with strong play in an energy role and the willingness to drop the gloves once in a while. He earned a two-year contract from Detroit, but has since struggled. He scored only eight goals last season, and only 18 points in 55 games on the season, his worst in his professional career.
Now in a decisive contract year, Tardif has stepped up his game. He's wearing the captain's 'C' for Grand Rapids and playing the top line with Jeremy Williams and Mattias Ritola. He also plays on the powerplay as the net front presence, contributing to his quick start with eight goals and 12 points, including an early season hattrick. He doesn't have the speed or consistency to play in the NHL right now, but he could be a big part of the Griffins' future going forward.
Travis Ehrhardt, D, 20, 5'11, 203, signed September 2009 -- One of Detroit's newest prospects is another player hoping to work his way from the bottom up. There aren't too many talking about Ehrhardt as a big name prospect, but Detroit likes the game he plays. That is, enough to give him a contract after two consecutive strong appearances at Detroit's training camp.
Ehrhardt spent the last five seasons in the WHL, the first three with Moose Jaw and the last two with Portland. Over a 256 game career, he recorded 20 goals and 99 assists. An undersized defenseman, Ehrhardt found a way to make his game effective in a stay-at-home defenseman role who plays solid professionally. However, Ehrhardt is also a strong skater who is proficient at rushing the puck up the ice -- definitely qualities seen in many successful Red Wings defensemen.
Detroit brought Ehrhardt to prospect's camp last season, and Ken Holland said that Detroit was very interested in signing him. However, they ended up signing Brian Lashoff and Brent Raedeke instead and Ehrhardt returned to to the WHL. Detroit brought him back to prospect's camp this season and rewarded his strong play with a contract.
Rather than sending him to the WHL for an overage season, Detroit had Ehrhardt turn pro. He's been in and out of the lineup, playing in 13 games and recording only one assist, as well as two points in three games with the Toledo Walleye. Doug Janik's arrival in Detroit has opened up more ice time for Ehrhardt, for the time being.
Notes: Dick Axelsson has been officially suspended by both Grand Rapids and Detroit for breach of contract ... Detroit has said they would like him back, Axelsson has another year on his contract ... Francis Pare, after scoring his first goal of the season last week, was named the AHL Player of the Week this past week ... Brendan Smith continues his collegiate dominance and is now considered the front runner for the Hobey Baker ... Andrej Nestrasil, Max Nicastro, Tomas Tatar, and Brian Lashoff have left their respective teams to join their countries for World Junior camps ... I mentioned last week that Sebastien Piche had 15 PIM in one game, for an elbow that he was eventually suspended for.
Who's Hot: With Tomas Tatar in Slovakia, Jan Mursak is the hottest Griffin right now. He had four points in his last four games, giving him ten in his past ten ... Before he left, Tatar had four points in three games last week ... After going 20-plus games without scoring, Francis Pare now has 13 points in 26 games, while going +7 last week ... Logan Pyett has had his most productive two weeks of his professional career, with two goals and one assist last week ... Jakub Kindl only has one goal this season, but has quietly crawled his way up to third among Griffins prospects in scoring, with 14 points, and more importantly, a +2 ... I don't mention them too much, but both Daniel Larsson and Thomas McCollum have been among the AHL's best goaltending duo this season. Larsson is now 10-5 with a 2.48 GAA a .918 save percentage, and McCollum has slowly clawed his way to a 7-5 record, with a 2.87 GAA and .893 save percentage ... Brendan Smith is still red hot with 14 points over his past nine games ... Adam Almqvist has turned his "few game" tryout in the SEL into an 11 game stint. He had two assists and was a +3 in one game last week, giving him five points on the year and giving his club a tough decision on whether or not to send him back. Jordan Pearce is in the hot column for the first time after going 2-1 last week, lowering his GAA by 0.51 (to 3.91) raising his save percentage up .15 (to .875).
Who's Cold: Cory Emmerton, Evan McGrath, and Jamie Tardif have both slowed down and only recorded one point in one of Grand Rapids' most productive offensive weeks of the season, but it was first line winger Mattias Ritola who was held completely pointless ... Jesper Samuelsson is still in tier-2 Sweden and was a -3 again last week, making him -9 with only six points in 18 games ... Brent Raedeke is still Edmonton's leading scorer in the WHL, and one of only a handful in the "plus" column of the +/- stat on his club.