Welcome to Week Three of our look at the Grand Rapids Griffins. Last week we talked about the fringe prospects and their potential. This week we will be discussing the top players on Grand Rapids.
These are the guys that everyone talks about and all of them would have a shot at making the Red Wings this season. You have players like Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist who were all, but guaranteed spots on the Red Wings, along with players like Tatar and Andersson who would have been given a strong look in training camp. These players have a lot of upside and could become top players on the Red Wings for many years to come.
Gustav Nyquist – Nyquist shared time between the Griffins and Wings last season and was still tied for the points lead on the Griffins, while playing 20 less games than either Tatar or Johnson. He showed flashes last season about what kind of player he could become, but he needs to get a little stronger on the puck, so he won’t get knocked off as easy. He was moved between the 1st line and 4th line while with the Red Wings. When he played on the Wings top line with Datsyuk, he did not look out of place and held his own against some of the top talent in the NHL. He shoots often and knows what to do and where to be on the ice when he does not have the puck. He has all the moves required of an NHLer and reminds me a bit of Datsyuk in 2001. Datsyuk wasn’t the dominant player he is now, but he had the same flashes of brilliance. Datsyuk’s flashes were more consistent than Nyquist’s, but if Goose puts it all together it could be the start of a new era for Wings hockey.
Tomas Tatar – Tatar tied for the points lead and led in shots on net for the Griffins last season. While he had been called up to the Red Wings two seasons ago, last season he was surpassed by Nyquist and wasn’t called up once. This year he would have been given a chance to fight for a spot in the NHL in training camp and possibly made the team. He is making a case for himself in Grand Rapid though and he is not afraid to fire the puck. Last season there were rumours about an attitude problem or that he was not putting in the necessary work to make it to the NHL. Tatar needs to prove he not only has what it takes to play in the NHL, but that those issues are no longer a problem for him. So far he is doing a good job at that, as he is off to a fast start this season with 8 points. Tatar could become the next Jiri Hudler, but he has more potential and versatility than Jiri. He can play on the 3rd line if needed or the top two lines and he shoots the puck a lot more than Hudler ever did.
Joakim Andersson – Andersson is in his third full season with the Griffins. For the last two Red Wings playoff runs he served as a black ace and gained plenty of experience from it. Last season he played in 5 games for the Detroit Red Wings and while he did not record a point, he made his presence on the ice felt. He used his size and speed to pressure the other team into making mistakes with the puck. In Grand Rapids he is counted on the centre Nyquist and Tatar, while putting up points. Last season he was 6th on the team with 51 points and tied for 3rd in goals scored, but he is off to a slow start this year with only 2 points. He tends not to shoot as much as other players, but he picks his spots and makes them count.
Brendan Smith – At this time everyone expected him to be, not only a starting defenceman for the Red Wings, but battling for a top four spot in training camp. Instead he will be spending more time in the AHL. This could help mature him more, because there is a lot more talent in the AHL this year. NHL teams have been sending their two-way contracted NHLers to the AHL and Smith will be playing against the best the AHL has to offer. So far this season he has been making a lot of mistakes. His passes have not been crisp and it seems his confidence is shot. He was expecting to be in Detroit and not Grand Rapids this season and may not have his mind entirely focused on the game. This same thing happened last season until he was brought up to the Red Wings which gave him the confidence he needed. Smith and the Griffins coaching staff need to do something quick about this because right now, he is hurting the team. Once he figures out what is wrong and corrects it he will once again be the dominate defenceman he was last season and will be the minute eater that he is.
Once the lockout is over this season or next season, you will see all of these players get a shot to not only play in the NHL, but contribute to the team. The influx of these young players will help rejuvenate the Red Wings core like the additions or Datsyuk and Zetterberg did in 2001 and 2002 and in the next few years they could become the core the Red Wings continue to build around and they will carry on the torch of NHL greatness.