On Saturday, February 4th, I made the drive with three of my friends to watch the Grand Rapids Griffins take on the Hamilton Bulldogs…and get a Niklas Kronwall Bobblehead. In case you aren’t aware, the Griffins are the Red Wings’ AHL team, which is where the top prospects in the organization play who aren’t quite ready for the NHL. Some of these prospects are probably ready to play in the NHL right now( Tomas “The Souse” Tatar (see the bottom of this post for the explanation of “The Souse”), Brendan Smith, and Gustav Nyquist(!!!!!)), but the Wings would rather have them play more significant minutes in the AHL over playing 6 minutes a game in the NHL. I went to this game as a fan like I usually do, but I decided to write about it and how certain players are playing.
The Griffins won the game 5-2 with three goals in the third period. Gustav Nyquist (!!!!) led the way with two goals, while Brendan Smith and Tomas “The Souse” Tatar each had two assists. Fabian Brunnstrom had a goal and an assist, while Francis Pare and Mitch Callahan netted the other two goals for the Griffins. Jordan Pearce had a solid game in net, stopping 32 of 34 shots, in his first start since injuring his ankle. The D had a pretty solid game. Let’s get to some analysis of the game and how I think the players did, shall we?
Even though the score didn’t indicate it, this was a pretty close one for 50 minutes. The game was scoreless after the first period. Each team had a few decent chances and each goalie had to make some good saves. The second period proved why the Griffins are the Red Wings AHL affiliate. Right after Francis Pare opened the scoring with a cannon from the left face off circle on the power play, the Bulldogs came down and scored on the next shift. A few minutes later, Nyquist (!!!) ripped a shot from the point on the power play to give the Griffins a 2-1 lead. What happened next? You guessed it – the Bulldogs scored on the next shift. The score ended up being 2-2 going into the third. I was hoping to see an exciting finish, but I got the next best thing.
The Griffins came out strong in the third period. Brunnstrom tallied about 5 minutes in, giving Grand Rapids a 3-2 lead. The Griffins then got two goals in very quick fashion. The fourth goal was scored by Nyquist (!!!) on a rebound from a tough angle. The fifth goal was scored by Callahan on a great pass from Trevor Parkes. The Bulldogs then changed goalies, but the game was effectively over at this point. Good to see a Griffins win and watching the prospects play. The hockey fan and hockey nerd in me were very happy.
And now, let’s analyze how the Red Wings’ main prospects did, shall we?
Quoting my friend Jenna: “Why isn’t The Souse one of the captains on this team?” This is because he was one of the hardest working players on the ice. He plays on the top line and kills penalties and gets power play time. Tatar is smaller but does have some speed to along with skill. He is surprisingly strong on the puck around the boards and uses his speed well. We all saw him play a few games with the Wings last year and know he has skill. Here’s his first NHL goal:
What’s impressive here is how he knew EXACTLY where the puck was going and what angle to put his blade. Or…not. What I like about the goal is his work down low. While Larry Murphy struggles to say “Active on the forecheck” between drinks, he does have a point. Watch the replay at about 45 seconds of the video. He gets in behind the defenseman and forces the puck to his teammates. He played similar to this on Saturday. I think he’s about ready for the NHL. It’s his third year playing with the Griffins. I think unless he plays against some better talent, it’s going to be tough for him to develop. I don’t want any Wings to get hurt, but if they do, I’d like to see him get a few games again this year.
Gustav Nyquist (!!!)
As you can probably tell, he is my guy. Seriously. Every single cliche about pure skill you have, this guy has in his game. Look at his stats at Maine. Obviously, those are really good, as he was twice a Hobey Baker nominee. He’s also over a point a game player in the AHL. On Saturday, he killed penalties as well as played the point on the power play (as much as I hate forwards playing the point regardless of skill level), he did it well and did have a very nice slapshot goal. I cannot find video of either of his goals, which is sad, because I want to watch them again. And again. And again. You get the point.
Now, is Nyquist ready for the NHL today? Honestly, as much as I think he’s going to be a top player, he needs to stay in the AHL for the rest of the year. Yes, he’s a top player there, and needs to be in the NHL next year, but he needs to get stronger to play in the NHL. Right now, he’s not strong or confident enough to play a major role with the Wings. This is why Babcock only gave him 6-7 minutes during his latest stint with the big club. That does him no good. He needs to be playing 15-20 minutes a night and playing in all situations. Give him a spot with the “Black Aces” (prospects who join the big club during the playoffs) and give him an intense offseason workout program and I think he’ll be a top 6 forward next year. You heard it here first. (Also, he gave me his stick after the game. I officially win at life!…at least on this day)
Get him to the NHL. As soon as possible. He clearly has the skill level to be in the NHL. From what I saw Saturday, he looks bored in Grand Rapids. It’s similar to The Souse in that he played three years in college and is now in his second year in Grand Rapids, which I don’t know how much it helps his development. We all know Kenny Holland and Co’s philosophy – make sure your prospects are over-ripe before they become NHL players. I understand that and mostly agree with it. Other teams do their young players harm by bringing them along too soon. Smith played a handful of games with the big boys and held his own. I think he can definitely run a power play (given the Wings recent power play, it’d probably be an improvement). The only question mark will be when Lidstrom and Stewie return, where does he fit in? More than likely, Commodore will not return, leaving Ericsson, Kindl, and Smith for the 5 and 6 spots. I just think that leaving him in the minors for another year is a big mistake.
Quick Thoughts On Other Players
Francis Pare – Better than I remember. Has a good shot and is right handed. Doesn’t do anything amazing but doesn’t hurt you. Could be an eventual 13th forward or a b-level prospect in a trade.
Logan Pyett – Not bad, but probably will never be a top 4 defenseman in the NHL. Could get a shot at a 6th or 7th eventually, but I don’t expect him to stick around with the Wings forever.
Doug Janik – Probably a perfect number 7 in the NHL. I’d like to see him re-sign with a two-way deal next season, but he’ll probably look for a better opportunity.
Garnet Exelby – Captain of the Griffins for reasons unknown to me. Probably the 10th defenseman in the Wings system (Smith and Janik). Didn’t seem to give much effort in this game. He probably could be a 7th d-man in the NHL.
And that concludes my analysis on the Grand Rapids Griffins. I wish they played closer so I could go to more games, but a two and a half hour car ride each way limits my attendance to a game or two each year. I also want to start a petition to get Fox Sports Detroit to start airing some of their games. Even if they are on FSD Plus, it’d still be cool to see a few games a year on there instead of stupid poker re-runs. Better yet – have the Griffins play a game at The Joe. I think that’d be awesome. I know it wouldn’t sell out, but it would still be fantastic to go to, and for the prospects to play a game in their hopeful future arena. So, if you know anyone with any power at FSD or the AHL, please forward this request along. Thanks!
You know the drill – leave a comment or feel free to yell at me on Twitter.
Tomas Tatar is called “The Souse” by me and most of my Red Wings friends. Here’s the story: My friend Jason and myself somehow decided that Tatar’s nickname should be Sauce (wow, that spelling looks weird to me) due to the similar sounding Tarter Sauce. When Jason and I went to Red Wings Training Camp in Traverse City in 2010, Tatar came out to sign autographs, as many players do. When he got to us, Jason asked him to sign his program as “Sauce”. Seeing as Tatar is from Slovakia and didn’t have the greatest grasp on the English language at that point, he spelled it SOUSE (see the picture below). From that point on, he became known as “The Souse” and Jason even went so far as to create a Facebook fan page for The Souse – check it out here. GO SOUSE!