With the NHL cancelling the hockey schedule until Oct. 24th, we will talk about the Wings prospects in Grand Rapids for a couple weeks or as long as the lockout drags on. The Griffins’ season starts on October 12th and there are some exciting players that could make the jump to Red Wings within next couple seasons. With the lockout in effect, AHL teams gained a lot of talented young players and the Griffins are no different. They boast a strong roster this season and have the chance to make the playoffs for the first time in 4 seasons.
Everyone knows the names of the stars who will be suiting up for Grand Rapids this season, Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and Petr Mrazek, but first we will take a look at few less idolized players. These are the players who have had a rough time adjusting, new to the team, or are coming in with baggage. All of them have potential, but need to make the most they can out of this season.
Jordan Pearce – Pearce is moving into his third full year with the Griffins. He is the oldest goalie on the team at 26 and has one year left on his deal. An injured ankle kept him out of a lot of games last season and even when playing he posted a miserable 3-8-1 record with 3.68 GAA. While a few goalies have made the jump at a latter age(e.g. Tim Thomas and Jimmy Howard) Pearce needs to so what he can do now. He is in his contract year the net will be crowded this season with goalies trying to prove themselves. Mrazek, McCollum, and MacDonald (If the lockout ends) will all be trying to fight for that top spot and the Griffins goalie and with Mrazek trying to prove he is worth the spot and McCollum and MacDonald in contract years as well, it will be a tough battle. Pearce will be getting the starting sport for the Griffins for now though with Mrazek being sent to Toledo for more ice time. We should see a rebound from last season for Pearce if the preseason is any indication. The preseason proved that he has a chance to be a real difference maker in net, but only time will tell and he is running sort of time.
Tomas Jurco – Yes Tomas Jurco. He had a great career with the Saint John Sea Dogs, but this will be a new challenge for him. Jurco is no longer playing against kids any more, but grown men, whom are all pretty much older than him. The guys in the AHL are stronger, smarter, and play a different style of hockey than the Juniors. He has a big body at 6’2” and he can use it, whether he is knocking a guy of the puck of crashing the net for a rebound. He has a lot of offensive skill, but needs to improve in a lot of areas on defence and consistency. In Saint Johns he was counted mostly on for points and was able to be lazier in the defensive zone, but he will not be able to get away with that in Grand Rapids. On offence there were times when he lost control of the puck and gave up on the play. Then there are shifts where he has the drive a pushes through everything and ones that look like he is taking a shift off. These lapses in consistency will have to be addressed quickly with the Griffins if he wants to make the next step. There is a high ceiling for Jurco, but I expect his first year to be a battle.
Tom McCollum – Tom needs to prove himself this season, if he is going to make the NHL or even stay in the AHL. His maximum ceiling is the back-up to Howard, but more realistic is that he could be a 3rd goalie for an NHL team, if he finally is able to put his whole game together that is. There is an off chance he shows that he has the potential be the starting goalie for the Wings one day, but I don’t think he has it in him any more. Confidence issues and positioning have been problems for him his past three years in Grand Rapids. Last season he was sent to Toledo because of his play and Pearce was brought up to take over his duties. This is a contract year for him, but I don’t expect much. So much for being the Red Wings goalie of the future, which is how he was projected when the Wings drafted him.
Max Nicastro – Max might have more to prove than all the others on this list. In February he was charged with sexual assault and was suspended, then dismissed from the Boston University team. He un-enrolled from BU and once the charges were dropped in June he signed a two year entry-level deal with the Red Wings. With this dark cloud over him, he will have to show that he is not only worth the risk, but that he can be effective at the next level. He is a big defenceman at 6’3″ and 210 pounds and doesn’t shy away from using it. He has some promise, but a lot of adversity to overcome. If he can make it through it though, he could be a solid Stuart like player.
All four of these guys are young and have time to develop into the players the Wings management believe they will become. But they still have to prove they have what it takes to play the game and eventually make it to the NHL. Each one of them has the potential to make it and be a contributor to the Wings, but it take focus, discipline and hard work. One of my favourite hockey quotes is “I wasn’t naturally gifted in terms of size and speed; everything I did in hockey I worked for…” – Wayne Gretzky. These guys will have to work hard every shift of every game if they want their shot at glory in the NHL. Skill only helps a player so much and in the AHL and NHL. The real difference between a great player and a good player is how hard they will fight to get that shot and once they have it how hard they work to keep it.