Word came out via Expressen (In Swedish, of course) that defenseman Adam Almquist may sign with HV 71 in the Swedish Hockey League next season rather than return to play with the Griffins. Almquist is a Red Wings RFA who is on the last year of his three year entry level deal and loses waiver exemption next season. The Wings will almost certainly make Squeak a qualifying offer and since he doesn't seem to be in the Wings immediate plans, he would have to clear waivers in order to be sent to Grand Rapids. Almquist told Expressen that he doesn't want to return to the AHL and said
Everyone wants to play in the NHL. I have played two seasons in the AHL now and it is not the goal to play there again. It's not a bad league at all, but I feel I want ahead and take new steps..... HV is always an option. But that said, I do not know where I will play next season. We'll see, says Adam Almqvist.
I can't blame him for not wanting to return to the AHL for a 3rd season, and despite having great offensive skills, being 23 with two year of AHL experience under his belt, and at the end of his entry level contract, his name has been noticeably absent in Wings brass' discussions for next year. The Wings apparent uncertainty or hesitance regarding the twiggy defenseman aren't unwarranted.
Almquist has great offensive skills for a defenseman and put up 4 goals and 49 assists this season with the Griffins, finishing 35th in AHL scoring, 3rd among defensemen, and 2nd on the Griffins in the regular season. The biggest knock against Almquist is that he's no bigger than a bean pole, standing 5'11" and weighing a mere 174 pounds (in his gear and soaking wet). Enough skill can overcome a lack of size, but does Almquist have enough skill to make up for his lack of size? Maybe? Almquist played his first two NHL games this season scoring a goal against the Dallas Stars in his 2nd game, but he was manhandled physically. He's always had a difficult time putting on weight but did manage to get a little bigger this season, but is it enough? Is Almquist smart enough and skilled enough to make it in the NHL despite his size? I don't know. Almquist has been a highly touted defenseman for several years now, and we still don't know if he has what it takes to make it in the NHL and it seems like the Wings have their eye on other defensemen to promote before Almquist.
If the Wings make him a qualifying offer, and he chooses to play in the SHL instead of playing in Grand Rapids for another season, the Wings sill still retain his rights. Which works out well for us if he can get a little bigger and become the NHL defenseman we think he can be.
One of the things I noticed about him this season is he's not always smart about protecting himself. As one of the smallest guys on any given team, he has to be extra mindful of his surroundings and not put himself into position to be obliterated or injured. In the AHL, opponents would intentionally hit him at every opportunity and seek to take advantage of his size, and far too often Adam seemed to lack the sense to avoid some of the contact, or at least mitigate it. There's no way to avoid being hit, but when you know you're going to draw the short straw, you've got to be smart about what situations you put yourself if. That's what makes me most hesitant about Almquist being ready for the NHL right now.
It would be nice if he had played a few more games in the NHL this season so we knew more about how he's make the jump, but here we are, left to wonder and speculate. If the Wings retain his rights and in a few years he's ready to come back and be an NHL defenseman, it may just work out well for the Wings. They have Mattias Backman, Alexei Marchenko, Xavier Oulellet, and Ryan Sproul knocking on the door right now so they don't have to put Almer in if he's not ready.
Do the Wings have good reason to not have played Almquist more? Were they just too afraid to take a risk on him? I don't know for sure, but it is frustrating not to have the chance to even find out. If Almquist goes back to Sweden, I won't blame him at all.