Griffins 2013-14 First Half Report Cards

Mitch Callahan and Ryan Sproul - Jason "Stripe" Kasiorek

It may be a new season, but the Griffins picked up where they left off last season with a franchise best winning streak. It should be no surprise that several of the heros of the Calder Cup Championship should still be at the top of the grading scale. Mitch Callahan and Tomas Jurco have taken big steps forward to rank among the leading scorers in the AHL, while afterthought netminder Thomas McCollum is playing the best hockey of his career with all-star Petr Mrazek in the NHL. The leadership group of Jeff Hoggan, Brennan Evans, Nathan Paetsch and Triston Grant remain focused and relevant, bringing along the next group of kids along with them. All-star coach Jeff Blashill continues to push all of the right buttons and has had the midas touch since joining the organization.

Griffins 2013-14 First Half Report Cards
Usual suspects top grading curve...
By Jason Kasiorek
www.griffinscentral.com
January 20th, 2014

It may be a new season, but the Griffins picked up where they left off last season with a franchise best winning streak. It should be no surprise that several of the heros of the Calder Cup Championship should still be at the top of the grading scale. Mitch Callahan and Tomas Jurco have taken big steps forward to rank among the leading scorers in the AHL, while afterthought netminder Thomas McCollum is playing the best hockey of his career with all-star Petr Mrazek in the NHL. The leadership group of Jeff Hoggan, Brennan Evans, Nathan Paetsch and Triston Grant remain focused and relevant, bringing along the next group of kids along with them. All-star coach Jeff Blashill continues to push all of the right buttons and has had the midas touch since joining the organization. 

These are the Griffins' first half grades: 

The Rating Scale:
A - Excellence
B - Above Average - Exceeds Expectations
C - Average - Meets Expectations
D - Below Average 
F - Fail 


Mitch Callahan A
What a great first half for the gritty winger. Callahan is among the league leaders in goals despite playing on the 3rd and 4th lines at times and not seeing regular powerplay time. He is one of team's best penalty killers and has shown very good speed, hands and on-ice vision. The only thing missing from his season so far is the NHL recall he deserves. A clutch scorer who is defensively responsible Mitch is a staple on the ice late in the game an indication of how far his game has come. 

Tomas Jurco A
Jurco picked up where he left off during the Calder Cup playoffs becoming a go-to guy and a point per game scorer in the first half for Grand Rapids. He earned a pair of NHL auditions where he didn't disappoint and now just needs to keep it up. Tomas is an exciting blend of size and sick scoring moves and uses both to full effect when on the ice. 

Petr Mrazek A
Mrazek was incredible in the brief time he spent in GR earlier in the season, posting a 10-2 record and his other numbers are among the tops in the league. The only thing negative about his first half from a Griffins standpoint was that he spent most of it in Detroit riding the pine. His return to the AHL will be a key factor in how far this team goes in the post-season. 

Brennan Evans A
He may not be the most gifted player on the roster, but Evans knows what his role is and plays it to perfection. He is nearly flawless in his positioning and defensive game, and when he drops the gloves he generally administers a beating of significance. This season he has even stepped up his offense by scoring 4 goals and 8 assists in the first half to blow away his totals last season. Despite his size and physical game, Evans rarely goes to the box by himself and shows no signs of slowing down. 

Thomas McCollum A-
Thomas enjoyed the best sustained stretch of his career during the first half, taking over the starter's duty with Mrazek in the NHL. He has improved his consistency and is starting to look like the player he was supposed to be when drafted. McCollum still has the mental lapses that see him give up awful softies, but those times are becoming fewer and farther between. He is among the top 3 in the AHL in wins, goals against average and save percentage. 

Alexey Marchenko A-
Perhaps the least heralded of the incoming crop of rookie blueliners, Marchenko has quietly been the most impressive during the first half of the season. He stepped into the AHL lineup like he had played there for years and has been very effective. Defensively he shuts down everything with his size, positioning and very active stick. He makes a nice first pass and seemingly has ice water in his veins. He showed similar poise during his NHL debut last month.

Jeff Hoggan A-
The captain got off to a strong start this season, despite dealing with injuries and being a member of the rotating veteran scratch. He has kept this young team focused and winning even with the target on their back from winning it all last season. Hoggan has also upped his scoring pace, even when handicapped with losing both of his regular line mates form last season. Hopefully the second half seas him kick the injury bug, as the team plays noticeably different with him in the lineup. 

Teemu Pulkkinen B
Pulkkinen has made great strides in his game since his audition at the end of the season last year. His calling card offensive game has been at a high level since day one, and though he tends to be streaky, his overall output is higher than expected. His defensive game, which put him in the press box as recently as last spring has improved dramatically. He still has room for growth but is no longer a liability. A gifted goal scorer, Teemu uses his exceptional lower body strength to fight his way to the net to get off his deceptively quick, hard shot. 

Ryan Sproul B
You have to start any assessment of Sproul by talking about THE SHOT. He gets some amazing velocity on his shot with little windup, and it is truly a weapon, beating netminders with regularity and injuring shot-blockers unlucky enough to be in front of it. Sproul sees the ice well and can make a sick pass through traffic or carry the puck end-to end himself. The smooth skating defender can run a powerplay and is creative and smart at getting the puck to the net. His defensive game, however, remains a work in process. On an everyday basis he is not as bad as billed, but is prone to making gut-twisting turnovers and mistakes at times that lead directly to back breaking goals. Under Evans' tutelage, those mistakes have become more infrequent and his defensive game is much improved from the beginning of the season. 

Andrej Nestrasil B
After two seasons of looking like a bust, Nestrasil is the latest reclamation project to bloom under coach Blashill. Moved to center, Nestrasil has showed a surprising defensive skill set, including his prowess in the faceoff circle. He is a fluid skater who knows where the puck is going to be which helps him break up plays. He also has proven to be a bonus on the powerplay where he uses his big body in front of the net to cause havoc. Nestrasil has already doubled his career AHL totals this season and could be due for a big second half. 

Cory Emmerton B
Emmerton was not happy to be waived to Grand Rapids, and it showed early on. The veteran center stepped up his game after another recall and demotion and has added some punch to the Griffins offense, averaging a point per game in the first half. The offense is only part of the story as he also has been part of one of the top penalty killing units in the AHL. He is within a few points of his full season career highs, but it remains to be seen whether he will be back in Grand Rapids in the second half to surpass them. 

Luke Glendening B
Glendening has spent most of the first half in Detroit but was off to a productive start in Grand Rapids prior to his recalls. Last season's surprise story, Luke added more grit and upped his offense, making him harder to play against and a legitimate scoring threat. His hallmarks remain his hustle, his defensively responsible game and his leadership. If he should return to Grand Rapids in the second half, his time in the NHL should pay dividends. 

Nathan Paetsch B-
The veteran defender battled injuries early in the season that visibly slowed him. He has bounced back and looks poised for a solid second half. His offensive totals are on pace with last season and he still logs a ton of ice in all situations. A mentor to the younger defenseman on the team, Paetsch's value isn't always measured in his statistics. 

Xavier Ouellet B-
Xavier's first month as a pro was a whirlwind as he made his Griffins and Red Wings debuts in relatively short order. Billed as two-way defenseman, Ouellet has focused more on the defensive end so far and has made quite a case for himself. He is a regular on the penalty kill and does a good job of keeping the puck out of harms way. His offensive game was just starting to pick up at the halfway point, and should see a surge in the second half. 

Triston Grant B-
Grant has done everything expected of him and more so far this season. He sticks up for teammates, drops the gloves and plays a hard-hitting, disciplined (more or less) game and is not easy to play against. He got off to a great start offensively playing on a line with Mitch Callahan, and has already equaled last seasons scoring totals at the halfway mark. A leader on and off the ice, he has even handled being a scratch during the veteran rotation with class and didn't let it affect his play. 

Landon Ferraro C+
Ferraro has all of the tools and always seems to be in motion, speeding up and down the ice and making things happen. The results have not been there statistically for him in the early going this season. He is an ace penalty killer, logs a lot of hard minutes for the Griffins and is a gritty competitor. He spent a lot of the first half with center Riley Sheahan, but experienced an up-tick in his scoring when playing with other linemates, which could be an X factor in the second half. 

Riley Sheahan C+
It is tough to handicap Sheahan because parts of his game are ready for primetime and others are still developing. He is physically mature, plays a power grinding game that wears down opponents and he is advanced defensively. He scores, but the offense is streaky and always leaves you wanting more. His consistency is perhaps the biggest thing he has to work on as he can look dominant for a stretch and then completely disappear. The latter does happen less frequently this year, and it will be interesting to see how much his game will improve after his extended stint in the NHL. 

Calle Jarnkrok C+
Jarnkrok was billed as the next great Swedish two-way player ala Zetterberg. So far he has shown prowess on the defensive side of things, and is strong in the faceoff circle. He plays in all situations, killing penalties and on the powerplay. The one part of his game that has not materialized yet is his scoring touch. After a semi-productive stretch playing alongside NHL'er Gustav Nyquist, Jarnkrok has gone quiet with just 3 goals and 2 assists on his last 17 games. With the amount of ice-time he gets and the quality of his linemates, he should be much more productive. 

Adam Almquist C+
Offensively Almquist has almost equaled his assist total from all of last season. He sees the ice well, allowing him to move the puck up ice better than most. After scoring double digits in goals last season, he has not scored once so far this year despite 52 shots on goal and some prime powerplay point time. The most perplexing thing about Almquist this season is the degradation of his defensive game. His struggles have gotten worse and he is the only defenseman on the team with a minus defensive rating (-1) while the next lowest is +10. 

Gleason Fournier C+
Fournier remains the insurance policy on the blueline for the Griffins. He is a healthy scratch most nights as the rookies get the ice time, but when injuries strike he is ready to step in and play quality minutes. He is effective, not flashy, but the offensive game he showcased in junior never materialized in the pro ranks. 

Jordan Tootoo C+
Tootoo is a mixed bag, bringing many positives and negatives to the lineup. He is a hard worker and uses his speed and grit to create energy and scoring chances. He likes to play the body and is one of the first in on the forecheck. The downside is that he loves to agitate, sometimes to his team's detriment as he is out of position looking for the extra hit or the subtle whack away from the play. On those nights he is also famous for taking selfish penalties at bad times. He can be a fan favorite and sticks up for his teammates, but it remains to be seen whether Blashill can reel him in enough to be a difference maker. 

Trevor Parkes C
Parkes has not been able to establish himself in the AHL despite putting up huge numbers in the ECHL. When in the lineup, he is a defensively dependable energy player with a penchant for banging and playing the body. With time running out on his contract it doesn't look like he will be able produce enough offense in the AHL to stake out a claim for a regular spot. 

David McIntyre C
McIntyre has struggled through a tough first half this season. He was injured early and has had to take on more of a defensive role than he had in Houston. His offense has come in bunches, but is well below his normal pace. The good news is that he is a gritty, physical player to play against and has helped shore up the penalty-killing unit. A clutch player, expect a stronger second half for the two-way forward and an upswing in scoring. 

Nick Jensen C-
The fact that Jensen is even in the AHL lineup, albeit on a part time basis, is probably a major win based on how things have gone for Jensen since leaving college. After being injured in a fight during the summer development camp, Nick has undergone surgery, rehab and a short stint in the ECHL for a shot at a spot on the Griffins blueline that was supposed to be his in September. So far he has been nearly invisible in limited playing time, which can be a good thing defensively, but for a player with his skill set, he has to show more to seize a spot. 

Jared Coreau C-
Coreau has had a rocky start to his pro career, getting lit up for a bad team in the ECHL and then essentially becoming a practice only player with the Griffins. The lanky netminder is in a catch 22 situation as he needs playing time to get better, but hasn't played well enough for the team to play him. A return by Mrazek or the addition of another AHL depth netminder would do wonders for Coreau by allowing him to return to the ECHL and see a lot of playing time. 

Louis-Marc Aubry D
Aubry lost his spot in the lineup late last season, and it was hoped a switch to the wing would give him more opportunity this fall. Instead the hulking forward was not able to establish himself and has spent the majority of the season in Toledo (ECHL). He has not shown much in his limited time in GR and will really need to step things up to stay in the lineup once the injuries and recalls subside. 

Martin Frk D
Frk has had a disappointing start to his pro hockey career. The junior league scoring phenom had some major adjustment issues including his foot speed and found himself farmed out to the ECHL for a stretch. Credit his work ethic and attitude for working to overcome his shortcomings and work his way back to the AHL. He has looked much better as of late, even getting some time on a scoring line and showing his offensive creativity. He is still looking for his first AHL point. 

Richard Nedomlel Inc.
Nedomlel had a couple of brief looks earlier in the season, but couldn't unseat one of the Griffins trifecta of super-rookie rearguards for a regular job so he ended up back in the ECHL. He remains a raw talent and work in progress, and it would make sense at some point for him to take some pointers from Evans on being a large physical defenseman. 

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