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Grand Rapids Griffins 2017-18 First Half Report Cards

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Rough start leaves room for improvement

Dominic Turgeon
Jason “Stripe” Kasiorek

Griffins 2017-18 First Half Report Cards

Rough Start leaves room for improvement...

By Jason Kasiorek

www.griffinscentral.com

January 24th, 2018

The midseason grades have not been kind to the Griffins, reflecting their stumble out of the gates to start the season. After opening with an abysmal losing streak, the team started to show signs of coming to life around the hallway mark. It should be no surprised based on the slow start that most of the high grades belong to role players and not the team’s stars. Defensive stalwarts Dominic Turgeon and Colin Campbell are having career years, while veterans Matt Ford and Brian Lashoff have led the way with their solid play. Rookie Filip Hronek has had an impressive start seizing a regular spot on a crowded blueline. On the flip side, Evgeny Svechnikov, in the hunt for an NHL job this fall, had a dreadful first half which saw him only score twice in the first 27 games. Defender Robbie Russo has been in free fall since late last season and needs to recover his game. Axel Holmstrom has struggled to find his way at the AHL level.

The Good news is that Griffins enter the second half on blank-blank-blank run in their last blank games, giving hope for another torrid stretch drive and playoff run.

These are the Griffins’ first half grades:

The Rating Scale:

A - Excellence

B - Above Average play - Exceeds Expectations

C - Baseline - Meets Expectations

D - Below Average play - Does not meet expectations

F - Fail

1st Half

GP G A PTS PIM +/- Shts

Dominic Turgeon A 39 8 14 22 16 7 70

Perhaps the most improved player on the Griffins over the first half, He has had a great season at both ends of the ice. Turgeon has already bested his career high in points in the first half and is still a force defensively. His improved play has seen him move up the lineup to more of a two-way role, including a stint centering the first line. He has improved his skating from last year and continues to be a key penalty killer.

Colin Campbell A 37 7 11 18 37 -1 74

Only injuries slowed down the red hot start that Campbell had, scoring 6 points in the first 3 games and never looking back. He missed time with a lower body injury, but has been a sparkplug when in the lineup with his speed and physical play. An ace penalty killer and consistent shorthanded threat, the gritty winger is tough to play against and frustrates opponents with his ability to create turnovers and the hands to take advantage of them.

Brian Lashoff A 35 2 5 7 23 -3 35

Another solid start for the Griffins defensive anchor. His steady play has been a bright spot on the GR blueline and he was the first defender recalled by the parent Wings when they needed reinforcements. Lashoff slows the game down and has a knack for being in the right place to break up a rush or strip the puck away at the line. He is the first player off the bench for the penalty kill and can be seen providing leadership on and off the ice with the younger defensemen.

Matthew Ford A 36 15 10 25 20 1 70

The fact that Ford leads the club in goal scoring and has already surpassed last season’s output is even more impressive when you factor in a slow start where he went scoreless the first 7 games. The Griffins captain has been an example of hard work and an impact player in all situations. A staple on both special teams, he has notched 8 man advantage goals and even added a shorty for good measure. His work ethic is a great example to the younger players as he is constantly battling and never gives up on a play.

Filip Hronek A- 31 3 11 14 22 10 36

Hronek was impressive from day one, splitting playing time with Saarijarvi, and it wasn’t long before he established himself as a regular in the lineup and pushed Saarijarvi to the sidelines. The rookie defender plays in all situations and has a low panic point, taking the time he needs to make a smart play. Not afraid to take chances, he seems to improve every game, and when he makes a mistake he learns from it, seldom making the same one twice. He also has a knack for finding an open lane from the point to get the puck to the net, sometimes making a head and shoulders fake to freeze a defender and sidestep to past him to put the puck on net. Filip leads the defense in scoring and leads the team in plus minus.

Ben Street B+ 36 5 21 26 12 -5 101

Another of the veterans that got off to a slow start offensively, he has really picked it up as of late, especially on the powerplay. Street sees the ice so well that he is great at distributing the puck and finding seems. The veteran center is also a master of ragging the puck, circling around and not giving up on the play. He is also a key player on the penalty kill, using his savvy and reach to pick off passes.

Matt Puempel B+ 31 13 17 30 6 7 92

Acquired from the New York Rangers for Ryan Sproul, Puempel has proved to be an offensive catalyst for the Griffins. The gifted sniper can score with the best of them when he wants to and has a quick release on a deceptive shot. He is at home on the powerplay where he can use the extra room to find openings and get into scoring position. Not adept defensively, he really needs to work on all-around game to be regarded as a real prospect in the organization.

Dylan McIlrath B+ 39 4 5 9 66 -2 56

Towering blueliner has kept his foot on the gas this season. He continues to play a very credible shut down role often partnered with the diminutive Joe Hicketts to keep an eye on him. He has also shown off an offensive touch that has not been his calling card, scoring 4 goals in the first half and has already beat last season’s scoring total. He has shown discipline in his physical game, picking his spots to drop the gloves without being a liability or taking bad penalties. While he could still work on his first step speed, he has proven to be much more mobile than most players his size.

Matt Lorito B 31 12 15 27 16 -5 104

The sneaky scorer bounced around the lineup a bit early in the season before finding a home riding shotgun with Colin Campbell and Dominic Turgeon. That line has been a catalyst, and Lorito has been very productive, taking advantage of their ability to create turnovers and capitalizing on loose pucks in front. He almost has as many shots in half a season as he did all last year. A streaky player, Lorito needs to continue to address his inconsistency in the second half.

Eric Tangradi B 38 11 15 26 26 -5 114

Tangradi (and his line mates) got off to a slow start and then while his play improved he remained snake bit around the net. Has finally started to come on offensively and looks primed for a big second half. When he is on top of his game he is a force to be reckoned with, a rare combination of size and skill. Even when the puck wasn’t going in, he was still getting chances and shots and playing physical.

Turner Elson B 23 8 6 14 7 7 50

Scored 4 points in his Griffins debut and was the leading scorer in the AHL after 3 games with 7. But the offense is not the key measure of his game as his energy and two-way play are the hallmarks of his game. Elson meshed well with Turgeon and Campbell early, but was sidelined with a mysterious ailment that saw him miss 16 games. A return to health for the gritty forward in the second half would have a big impact on the Griffins fortunes.

Dan Renouf C+ 39 0 8 8 55 5 27

Renouf has not taken his game to the next level, but at least he hasn’t taken a step back. He has played very well in his own end but needs to step up the physical play. They say the best thing you can say about a defensive defenseman is that you didn’t notice him, but Renouf appears to be capable of making more of an impact on a nightly basis even if it is just by being more difficult to play against. His play also may be hampered by being regularly pared with the defensively challenged Russo. He was much more noticeable when he was paired with Hronek for a stretch of games.

Joe Hicketts C+ 38 1 6 7 24 -8 67

After a strong freshman season and a solid showing in training camp, Hicketts looked like he was on the cusp of NHL employment. This season however, things got off to a different start. The gritty blueliner has played OK, but has not been near the force he was last season in any area. He has continued to be responsible defensively, but the offense and big hits have been few and far between. His bread and butter remains his ability to get the puck out of the zone and start the transition with a great first pass.

Vili Saarijarvi C+ 18 0 5 5 2 -1 38

The speedy rearguard has shown flashes of the player he could become, moving the puck with authority and making a stellar first pass out of his own zone. Saarijarvi plays with pace and tempo and is an impactful player, he just needs ice time to get better. Like most rookies, he could stand to get stronger and improve his play without the puck, but he does not disappoint when he has it. After a string of impressive performances it appears he could be poised for regular playing time and a strong second half.

Dominik Shine C 27 3 4 7 32 -3 44

The points have not come as expected for Shine, but he has won a permanent spot in the lineup with his hustle. Strong defensively and very good at finding holes to move the puck up ice, Dominik can create a scoring chance from nothing. He is more physical than his size would suggest and is willing to drop the gloves, not the norm for a former college player. Normally seeing time on the fourth line, he has impressed when auditioned with better line mates elsewhere in the lineup.

Tom McCollum C 15 0 0 0 0 0 0

McCollum returned after a one year absence to begin his 8th season with the Griffins. He had an abysmal start before settling down to play credible hockey. Like most of his career, consistency continues to be his main struggle as he will turn in a stinker every few performances. His biggest accomplishment of the first half had nothing to do with his play, and more about the type of person he is off the ice and the great example he sets for Detroit’s prospects.

Jared Coreau C- 26 0 0 0 0 0 0

For a player that was supposed to in the mix for an NHL job in training camp, Coreau did not have a good first half. While his play has improved as of late, and some of his struggles were related to the team in front of him struggling, he still has some work to do. He has been less aggressive this season and has also had some issues with his positioning and angles, allowing goals that his body language indicated he thought he had closed off. He needs a strong second half to re-establish himself as an NHL option.

Corey Elkins C- 39 6 7 13 18 -6 41

It is tough to grade Elkins because he is a “tweener” in that he just doesn’t fit in to a specific role well. A very good skater, with a long reach who sees the ice well, Corey looks like he is capable of producing much more offense than he does. Slotted in as 4th line center due to lack of production in other roles is almost a waste of his skating and hockey sense. He excels on the penalty kill, and has the skill set to play on the powerplay, but just doesn’t seem inclined to play offensively.

Luke Esposito C- 13 0 2 2 6 0 15

Another in a long line of small speedy college forwards the Griffins have signed the last few years. Esposito stole a spot early with his hustle before eventually ending up as a healthy scratch and a few stints in Toledo. Blessed with good speed and hands, it remains to be seen whether his offense will translate to AHL level.

Robbie Russo D+ 39 3 11 14 32 -5 77

Russo has watched stock plummet precipitously following his NHL recall last season. He struggled in the postseason on the Griffins Calder Cup run, was disappointing in training camp, and has not had a good start to the season. He looks lost defensively, and is easily the least effective of the regulars on the blueline. His offensive game has not been near enough to offset his penchant for giveaways and he has regressed a lot over the last year.

Axel Holmstrom D+ 35 5 12 17 2 -8 36

By most measurements Holmstrom had a disappointing first half. A certain amount of slack has to be given to him as he continues to return from knee surgery and adjust to the North American pro game, but more was expected from the gifted forward. Despite being slotted as a center quite a bit, he seems more suited for the wing. The plus is that he is defensively responsible, and physically mature, displaying good strength and knows how to use it. On the downside his skating looks labored and slow, his intensity level could use a regular boost, and he is not as involved in the offense as he needs to be given his ice time and line mates. The second half of the season will go a long way towards determining whether he slots in as a prospect or a suspect.

Evgeny Svechnikov D 34 5 7 12 35 -4 58

The sophomore slump was in full effect for the gifted sniper for most of the first half. For a player that was in the conversation to make the Wings out of camp, Svechnikov has fallen far. Not only has he not been scoring, but he also hasn’t been getting good chances, and his play without the scoring is not enough yet to justify his ice time. The last couple of weeks he finally was showing signs of breaking out and starting to play his game. He is guilty of putting too much pressure on himself, and will have to find a way to overcome that to succeed at the next level.

Zach Nastasiuk INC. 5 1 0 1 0 -2 6

Nastasiuk was a late cut from the Griffins and spent most of the first half in Toledo. He was recalled got into a couple of games before being pushed back to the sidelines. He scored a goal and posted 4 shots in his first game, but was unable to sustain that level of impact. Time is running out for Nastasiuk on the last season of an entry level contract to show he can play at the AHL level.