Prospect News: Catching Up With The Griffins Defense

Xavier Ouellet and Thomas McCollum - Griffins Hockey

We already took a look at the forwards, now it's time to see how the future of the Red Wings blue line is coming along.

Looking at the box score stats for forwards is pretty useful, since their primary goal is to..well..score goals. It gets a lot trickier with the defensemen because usually the stats don't tell us what's most important, and when they're dong the job well, you don't see them in the highlight videos. To try and provide more useful information on these positions, We All Bleed Redd ( Youtube channel) is helping me out by putting together some videos of the defensemen doing things that don't make it into the official highlights and are more relevant to what their job is. Thanks Sanjay!

While offense isn't the primary task of the defense, getting goals and assists from them makes the team much stronger and can make a big difference. The Griffins defensemen have a total of 7 goals and 38 assists, and make up a total of  26% of the team's points production; that's 11% of the team's goals and 35% of their assists being scored be defensemen. Half of the defensemen on the Griffins roster are rookies in their 1st year in the AHL.

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Defense:

Nathan Paetsch - Adam Almqvist

Nathan Paetsch is one of the veterans the Griffins made sure to bring back this season to help mentor the younger guys, but he's not only providing leadership and "intangibles", he's also 3rd in defenseman scoring with 8 points (1G 7A). It's easy to tell that Paetsch is experienced by his play on the ice, and having him to mentor the younger guys is great. Paetsch also plays on the 2nd PP and 2nd PK units.

Adam Almqvist has 8 points (all assists) in 13 games and is 3rd in points among defensemen on the team. Since he's played a couple of games with the Wings already this year, so we're already seen a little more of him and what he can do. He's a very smart defenseman who has what it takes mentally to play at a high level. The thing that makes me uncertain about his future is his size. I Will never write off a player because of their size, and I'm certainly not going to say Almqvist won't be a good NHL defenseman because of his size. It does give me a little hesitation in knowing what to expect from his future though. Right now he's 5'11" 173 pounds, and while his size is sometimes a disadvantage in to him in the AHL, watching him get moved around so effortlessly by the Dallas Stars was concerning. He can certainly continue to get bigger and stronger, and I think the FSD broadcast crew said he put on something like 10-12 pounds since last year. He is a little bigger than when I saw him in Grand Rapids last spring, which says something about how small he was then. He doesn't have to be "big", and I don't think he ever will be, he just doesn't have the frame for it; but I think he needs to put on maybe 15-20 pounds in order to hold his own against NHL players.

I enjoyed reading Almqvist's reaction (and his family's) to his first NHL goal (that I got to see live).

Griffins Feature: Griffins players making their NHL impact, and Almqvist on his 1st NHL goal.
"My dad was for sure happy. He yelled a little loud in the middle of the night and woke up my mom. It was fun, and I was happy for sure too."

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Xavier Ouellet - Alexei Marchenko

This is the only defense pairing made up of two rookie defensemen, instead of a rookie and a vet. Blashill likes to use the defensive/offensive D-pairings (which I like as well) and I think it's an indication of Ouellet's defensive responsibility and Coach Blashill's confidence in him that these two rookies are paired together.

Xavier Ouellet has 3 points (all assists) in 14 games, and if we only looked at the stat sheet, we'd miss the very best things about this young defenseman who is already good and will continue to get better. As with Almqvist, we're already gotten a look at this rookie in the NHL. He's already received high praise from Mike Babcock for his play in his first 3 NHL games. Ouellet was the QMJHL defenseman of the year last year and was one of the top defensemen for Canada at the World Juniors as well. He's not an offense-first D-man, but he can chip in goals as well. What's been most impressive to me since watching him in camp this summer, is how smart, calm, aware, and smooth he is. At the beginning of the season, I predicted he's make a DeKeyser-esqu transition into the AHL, and he's not only made the transition almost seamlessly, but also looked very mature, responsible, and competent in his NHL games. He played on the PP and PK in the Prospects Tournament and he was very good on the PP point, with his 1-timer goals and whatnot. He's not being used much on the PP in Grand Rapids (from what I can tell) but he is getting PK duty. He needs to get a little faster on his skates, and there's a little hiccup in his forward -to-backward skating transition that costs him a couple seconds, but those are both things that are easily fixed. What he already has in his defensive responsibilities, smarts, composure under pressure, communication, and mental maturity, are things that can't be so easily learned. One of the things I noticed in both Grand Rapids and Detroit, is that he's a great communicator. You'll see it in the below link of the Winnipeg game, and I saw it on display in Grand Rapids as well, but when he's on the ice he'll be talking to his teammates, pointing, and sorting things out to avoid coverage mistakes or confusion. That's a huge asset for any player (especially a defenseman) to have, but to see him use it so effectively and at such a young age is very encouraging.

He very well may be the next prospect to earn a permanent spot in the top 6 in Detroit, and it may be sooner rather than later.

Here's a post that includes each of Xavier Ouellet's shifts against the Winnipeg Jets on November 12th, 2013

The Blue Line Patrol: Xavier Ouellet: Patrolling The Blue Line
Kevin breaks down Ouellet's shifts against the Winnipeg Jets to give us a better look at Ouellet's strengths and weaknesses.

Alexey Marchenko seems to be finding his game and really progressing quickly now. He's really struggled to adapt to the size and speed of the North American game after coming over from Russia, but he's making quite a bit of headway now. He has 9 points (1G 8A) in 16 games and is 2nd in points among defensemen on the team, and 22nd in the league. He's playing the point on the top PP unit and playing on the top PK unit. He was a highly anticipated arrival to the Red Wings organization who is really starting to show why. He's only 21 and last year was his first full year with CSKA Moscow. He's a very smart, puck moving defenseman and is a right handed shot, who hasn't been known for his production, so the fact that he's also putting up points in the AHL is a pretty nice addition to his skill set. His skating and mobility is fantastic, and he makes a very nice first pass. This could turn out to be another steal of a deal for the Wings in the 7th round.

Hockey IQ - Defending the Aerial Breakout Pass - Grand Rapids Griffins - YouTube
Alexey Marchenko, Ryan Sproul and Nathan Paetsch each shut it down

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Brennan EvansRyan Sproul

Brennan Evans has 5 points (all assists) in 16 games and has a Griffins only contract as one of the vets on the team. He doesn't get PP time, but does play on the PK.

Ryan Sproul is 4th on the team in points with 12 (5G 7A) and leads all Griffins defensemen in both goals and points. He's also 7th in points among all defensemen in the AHL  and 13th in the league in rookie scoring (that includes forwards and defensemen) and he has 2 PP goals as well. Sproul is an offensive defenseman with a rocket of a shot and is 6th on the team in shots on goal. He doesn't get much (if any) PK time, but he mans the point on the #2 PP unit. His offensive game is impressive for a defenseman, and while his defensive game has been a little lacking in the past (a little, not egregious) from the little I've been able to see of him in person this season, it looks like he's improved in that area as well. I think he and Ouellet were the top 2 options for a call up when the Wings needed a defenseman, and Ouellet got the nod because of his more solid defensive game. With Sproul, creating offense, pinching, and taking more risks is... well, riskier. Especially at the NHL level, but I from what I've seen so far, Sproul is continuing to improve and he's going to have a very good future. I think it's a little tougher for the offensive defensemen to make the jump to the NHL, because often times their defensive game suffers just a little bit in favor of more offense (which for a defenseman can mean more risk taking), and in the NHL the little defensive mistakes that players can get away with in the AHL or Juniors, come back to bit them more often than not. The first example of this that come to my mind is Brendan Smith. I think Sproul will be very good, but in his transition to the NHL (eventually) he'll make more mistakes than someone like Ouellet who is more defensively solid.

Ryan Sproul - Goals, Assists and Leading the Rush - Grand Rapids Griffins - YouTube
10.30.13

Ryan Sproul's Laser Beam/Top Shelf Goal off the rush vs Chicago Wolves - YouTube
11.16.13

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Richard Nedomlel has played 2 games with the Griffins, and 4 with the Walleye. It's going to be tough to steal a spot on the Griffins blue line with the roster we currently have. Nedomlel is most definitely a defensive defenseman, and his 2 points (1G 1A) in 6 games reflects that. What I like about Nedomlel is at 6;5" 231 pounds he's big and he uses his body. He's 20 years old, just signed his entry level contract this summer, and is in his first pro year. I haven't been able to watch him in Grand Rapids or Toledo yet, but I really liked what I saw form him in the Prospects Tournament and even in Training Camp. His size and strength gives him a distinct advantage, and he knows how to use his size to protect the puck, and knock other people off it. He makes the smart, simple play, and from what I saw, he had a very nice first pass out of the zone. He's not flashy, he's not fancy, but he's big, he's solid, he has a great reach, and he plays a physical game with a little snarl when needed. He reminds me a little big of Brad Stuart.. if Stuart was ginormous. He was a 6th round pick, so we'll have to see if he has what it takes to make it up the ranks in the organization. I hope so.

Richard Nedomlel: learnng on the fly with the Grand Rapids Griffins - YouTube
11.08.13

Here's a video of Griffins defensemen defending after giveaways.

Hockey IQ - Defensive Coverage after a Giveaway - Grand Rapids Griffins - YouTube

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Nick Jensen's pro debut has been delayed because of a shoulder injury he received in Development Camp, but he was finally taken off IR and sent to the Toledo Walleye today. He'll start there and need some time to get back up to speed, but hopefully he quickly makes his way up to Grand Rapids. He was the WCHA Defenseman of the year last year, playing for St. Cloud State. He's fantastic skater with speed and agility, he makes a great first pass, knows when to jump into the play, and when to hang back, and did I mention his skating and speed? He can carry the puck up the ice very well, or pass it up to a teammate. Because he played in college and is a little older (23) he has more physical and mental maturity than a lot of the kids making their pro debut. He's not "big" at 6'1" 195 pounds, but he still plays a physical game and has a penchant for laying open ice hits when the opportunity present itself.



Coming soon: The Goalies

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