Chris Note: When a reader, Jeremy B., offered to contribute as our Griffins "correspondent", as the NOHS authors live across the country and far away from Grand Rapids, we jumped. Hope you enjoy!
Griffins Season-in-Review by Jeremy B.
Seventeen games into the 2012-13 AHL season, the Grand Rapids Griffins hold a 10-5-1-1 record, good for 22 points. That total has placed them first in the Midwest Division and third in the Western Conference. The team has shown off several strengths to this point in the season: balanced (and frequent) scoring, disciplined play, and good coaching. Let's take a look at some of the names that have contributed to the Griffins' strong start:
Jeff Blashill–Blashill, who served under Babcock last season, is in his first year as the Griffins' bench boss and is overseeing a group that has scored the third-most goals and has taken the third-fewest penalty minutes in the league. Sounds a lot like the parent team, doesn't it?
Joakim Andersson–Andersson came up to Detroit briefly last season and earned praise from Babcock for his grit and underrated scoring touch. He's one of six Griffins with double-digits in points (4 goals, 7 assists in 16 games) and is following up his breakthrough 2011-12 campaign (21 goals, 30 assists) with another solid season. To me, he at best projects as a potential third-line center for the Wings. But of course, a third-line center for the Red Wings is a second-or even first-line center on most other teams.
Brendan Smith–Widely regarded as the Wings' next franchise blueliner, this former Wisconsin Badger has played every game and has recorded 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists). He continues to exhibit toughness, racking up 24 PIMs so far this season. He leads the team in shots on goal and is a +3. He's the team's best defenseman and is arguably the Wings' top prospect.
Chad Billins–The 23 year-old defenseman might be a -8 this season, but he's averaging a point per game (1 goal/15 assists). He's had a very strong start to the season and has played himself onto the top defensive pairing.
Gustav Nyquist–You remember Nyquist, right? Under six feet tall, yet another Swede, got called up during the injury bonanza last season and did well enough that Babcock played him with Datsyuk and Zetterberg? Well he's tearing up the AHL, recording 19 points (8 goals, 11 assists) in 17 games. The winger is a team-best +7 and has scored half of his goals on the power play. When the NHL resumes play, look for him to be on the Wings full-time.
Tomas Tatar–Here's another well-known Wings prospect. The Slovakian is in his fourth season with Grand Rapids and is leading the Griffins with 10 goals, five of which have come in the last three games. Tatar has received a lot of good press for his play the past couple of seasons and is very close to joining the Wings full-time.
Francis Pare–Entering his fifth season with the Griffins, Pare is on pace to put up his best season yet. He's scored 8 goals and assisted on 6 others in 17 games. Most importantly, he's visited the penalty box only once this season.
Landon Ferraro–The son of former Thrashers captain Ray Ferraro, Landon has scored 5 times and recorded 12 points in 17 games. The 21 year-old center recorded only 20 points all of last season with the Griffins and is averaging around two shots per game, which is about a third of a shot better than his average last year. He still needs some polish, but keep an eye on his progress.
Petr Mrazek–The 20 year-old rookie is off to a blazing start; he's 6-1 with a 2.53 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Mrazek came on in relief of the underwhelming Thomas McCollum (4-2-1, 2.80 GAA, .894 save %) and won his first six starts during Grand Rapids' recently-concluded eight-game winning streak.
That'll wrap up the season-in-review. The Griffins' next game is Friday night at Van Andel Arena against the Texas Stars (Dallas' AHL affiliate); a preview of that game should be up Friday morning. Until then, you can follow me on Twitter @jeremyberen for updates on the team and other things. Go Griffins!