Note: On a whim I've decided to drop Friday from the name of this feature. Mostly because I haven't been doing them on Fridays lately. In fact, I'm pretty sure today is Sunday. But I've got nothing to confirm that report.
Second note: I've fallen behind on this feature and so this is the first one of these in three weeks. I'm glad you were all so worried about it. Jokes, of course. There's no statistical report for this week. Since so few prospects are still in action, I'll just update a finalized version either this week or next. While there probably won't be enough news to stretch this out into the summer, I still intend to do regular updates. Probably when you least expect them.
Let's get to it. While I haven't been writing, I have been working my tail off scouting. Just for you guys, how lucky. I went to Friday's Griffins game, their last home game of the year, against the Lake Erie Monsters. I've got some thoughts on quite a few players, so let's get started.
The lines for the fantastic night:
Mursak - Abdelkader - Ritola
May - Emmerton - Williams
Owens - Ferraro - Pare
Vigilante - Armstrong - Tardif
Kindl - Lashoff
Janik - Tollefsen
Pyett - Kolosov
Individual thoughts after the jump.
Jan Mursak - The top line of Mursak, Abdelkader, and Ritola were by far the best group on either team, all night long. Mursak perhaps made the greatest strides of any Griffin from this point last year, going from a fourth line energy player to the top scoring prospect on the team. He scored a nice goal where he picked up a rebound and put a backhand shot in the top corner. He's probably the fastest on the team, in addition to being perhaps the most creative. His limited role last season has really helped to develop his two-way game. Mursak will be interesting to get a good look at next training camp, but another year of the AHL for some scoring consistency will be good.
Justin Abdelkader - Played the type of game that makes one think "why is Jason Williams in Detroit's lineup?" There's pretty much no reason Abdelkader shouldn't re-assume the role he had centering Detroit's 4th line briefly in last year's Stanley Cup Finals. He showed more of the hands and overall offense than he had the last time I caught the Griffins. For a 22-year-old, his fearlessness on the ice is really impressive. He's able to mix it up and didn't cross the line to the box on this particular night. Appeared to be much better in the faceoff circle, giving Detroit a natural center for the 4th line.
Mattias Ritola - The last of the dominant line, Ritola is a player that I admit has never impressed me that much in Grand Rapids. I was much more impressed by his play in the pre-season, and then his call-up to Detroit. However, tonight he was the most impressive on his line. Opened the scoring with a somewhat flukey goal that came from patience and creativity. Picked up a puck from a bad angle and feathered a shot through the goaltender (former NHLer John Grahame)'s five hole, and added another on a nice move when he found himself uncovered, alone in front of the net. He'll need to turn some heads to get on next year's big club, but he's certainly worth a look.
Brad May - It's funny to see him at a level where he's able to control the puck and gets shifts on the powerplay. He wasn't particularly good -- his puck control is predictably poor, but the sense of the ice you get from 20 years of NHL hockey is very clear. I don't want to see him get any time in the playoffs, but he would have been a valuable asset for the Griffins if they made the playoffs.
Cory Emmerton - Sadly, he blended in again. The thing I read about him that's always stuck with me is he "blends in" at the AHL level. He's smart and skilled enough where this shouldn't be the case -- I barely noticed him, but to be fair, the 1st line played a ton, and the 2nd and 3rd played pretty equally behind it.
Jordan Owens - You may remember him as Detroit's big trade deadline splash, acquired from New York for Kris Newbury. Owens came as advertised -- a lot of energy, not afraid to mix it up, and decent with the puck. He didn't get a lot of special teams time, but he's under contract for next season and should be a big part of the Griffins third line -- with the upside of a potential NHL callup.
Landon Ferraro - You may remember him as one of the subjects of prospect interviews a few months back. He came to Grand Rapids on a tryout after his WHL season ended -- one that saw him a healthy scratch for his team's final WHL playoff game -- but he wasn't expected to get ice time. I expect I was the only one in the building who was visibly surprised and excited when he stepped on the ice for warmups. Didn't play much, but he looked quick and had two decent scoring chances. He threw one of the biggest hits of the game and was decent along the boards, even though he still desperately needs to add weight.
Jakub Kindl - Stood out best on the powerplay. Kindl and Jeremy Williams joined the top forward unit on the team's top powerplay. It was absolutely magical to watch them move the puck. This was Kindl's strong suit in junior hockey, but he was not particularly dominant there his first two seasons of AHL hockey. He's gotten there now though, looking like he could easily take Jason Williams' spot in Detroit next season. He still prefers to use his stick when on the defensive end, but having seen no gaffes or blown coverages on this night, I will say he was the team's best defender.
Brian Lashoff - It blows my mind how good he is at the AHL level, having just joined the club last week after ending his OHL career with Kingston getting knocked out of the playoffs. He didn't have a particularly good year, but his skating ability, puck-moving ability, and size really help to make his AHL transition smooth. Played with Kindl and they looked great together, communicating well, not forcing anything. Lashoff should have no problem stepping into a top four role in Grand Rapids next season.
Ole-Kristian Tollefsen - I liked his game at the Olympics, but I didn't think he looked great on this night. Awkward, hunched over skating, looks dangerous (in a bad way) when carrying the puck, and just doesn't look like he's paying attention in the defensive zone. I was ready to rip into him until I saw him make a beautiful sliding shot block with four minutes left... in a 6-1 game. It will be interesting for Detroit to look at him for next season as a 6/7 who will really give it his all, but with seven defensemen already slated for Detroit, it might be worth letting him go and taking the extra draft pick.
Thomas McCollum - McCollum didn't register a single win in 15 appearances that stretched from December 13 to March 26, but you wouldn't know it from how he played against Lake Erie. He was confident, challenging shots when he could and controlling rebounds nearly perfectly. He is still a bit of a scrambler when he's not sure where the puck is and ended up completely out of his net on two occasions. He had no chance on the lone goal he let up, so all in all it was a great performance from him.
These were the main impressions. However, since the game, Grand Rapids has received two bits of good news that will really boost the team for next season.
Joakim Andersson is expected to sign a three-year deal on Monday after three full professional seasons in Sweden. Andersson was considered a late first round pick his draft year, but slipped to Detroit in the 3rd round. The 21-year-old is known for great two-way play. Hobey Baker nominee Brendan Smith helped Wisconsin to the NCAA Championship game, where they lost 5-0 to Boston College. Smith's tournament was highlighted by five assists in the 8-1 Frozen Four win over RIT. Smith is a junior and looks like a lock for an NHL contract before next season. He could play in Grand Rapids as well, but his strong tournament has some thinking he will really force Detroit to give him a long look.