After Calder Cup Win, Griffins Can Expect NHL Affiliate To Shake Up Roster
After a disappointing campaign in which Detroit failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, the organization can look to some of the Grand Rapids' playoff heroes to inevitably make the roster next season.
Some of those heroes include Tomas Nosek, Tyler Bertuzzi, Evgeny Svechnikov, and Robbie Russo, each of whom spent time with the Red Wings this season and appear to be on the brink of the NHL.
Other Griffins who spent time in Detroit in 2016-17 include Ben Street, Matt Lorito, Mitch Callahan, Dan Renouf, and Brian Lashoff. Renouf, 22, is the youngest of the bunch and holds a potential NHL future, while the others' professional careers have rarely extended beyond the AHL.
The Red Wings have 16 players under contract -- excluding Johan Franzen, who will be placed on long-term injured reserve to start the season. That will become 19 when restricted free agents Tomas Tatar, Andreas Athanasiou, and Xavier Ouellet re-sign with Detroit.
Those 19 players are made up of 11 forwards, six defensemen, and two goaltenders. Following the expansion draft, the team will lose one player, which will then leave five open roster spots for Nosek, Bertuzzi, Svechnikov, Russo, and another player to fight for during training camp -- pending no moves by the Red Wings in free agency.
Nosek, 24, is no longer waiver exempt and will either have to make the team out of camp or be exposed to waivers, where he will likely be claimed like Andrej Nestrasil, Teemu Pulkkinen and Martin Frk have been in recent years.
Nosek scored 15 goals and 41 points in 51 games this season. Nosek finished second in playoff goals with 10 and third in points with 22 during Grand Rapids' 19 playoff games.
Bertuzzi, 22, set the Griffins' all-time playoff scoring record on his way to being named the postseason MVP. He recorded nine goals and 19 points in as many games. He has shown a knack for raising his play with 23 goals and 39 points in 42 total playoff games.
Pending a terrible training camp, the gritty forward should be a full-time piece on a roster of otherwise soft players.
Svechnikov, 20, was drafted 19th overall in 2015 and had a solid rookie season for Grand Rapids with 20 goals and 51 points in 74 games. He learned the league quickly and caught fire the second half of the season.
Russo, 24, played in 19 games on Detroit's blue line, and while he failed to record a point, he had decent possession numbers (51.7 CF%) and was a plus-2 on a team full of minus players. He was a strong college player at Notre Dame and has translated to the AHL nicely.
While the Griffins will inevitably lose one or more of these players ahead of the 2017-18 season, Grand Rapids coach Todd Nelson does have some high prospects coming in for full-time spots.
One of those players is 2016 second-round pick Givani Smith. Listed at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Smith has been described as a tank who forces his way to the dirty areas. Smith scored 26 goals and 44 points in 64 games with the OHL's Guelph Storm before joining the Griffins for three games after the Storm ended their season.
He was a black ace for the team during the playoffs but learned the ins and outs of everyday professional hockey, which can go a long way. It's possible he returns to Guelph for next season, but Detroit might opt to push his development to a regular spot in the AHL.
Vili Saarijarvi was another black ace for the team after his Mississauga Steelheads lost in the OHL Finals to the powerhouse Erie Otters. Saarijarvi has been one of the top offensive defenseman during his two seasons in the OHL and was a finalist for Defenseman of the Year in 2016-17.
The 20-year-old is undersized at 5-foot-10 but is an excellent puck mover and intelligent player who often drives play. He should be a mainstay on the Griffins blue line in 2017-18.
Axel Holmstrom, no relation to Tomas, recorded a goal and an assist in seven regular season games with the Griffins after leaving the Swedish Hockey League. He played in four playoff games, recording a goal. The two-way center will have a regular role next season and will look to put recurring ACL injuries behind him.
The last notable player is Filip Hronek, a 2016 second-round pick who impressed Detroit enough to be one of the teams last cuts in training camp this past fall. Hronek, 19, recorded 14 goals and 61 points in 59 games with the OHL's Saginaw Spirit in 2016-17, his first year in North America.
Hronek got into 10 regular-season games with the Griffins, chipping in a goal and an assist while looking pretty comfortable on the back end. He played two more games during the playoffs with zero points and a minus-2 rating.
The Red Wings also hold the No. 9 pick in this coming draft, the organization's first top 10 pick since 1991. While it's been repeatedly referred to as a weak year, the entry draft is often a crapshoot after the first four or five picks.
The Griffins have been a mainstay in the playoffs in recent years, and Detroit's strong draft history and Griffins GM Ryan Martin's success suggests any incoming players will keep the team competitive for next season and beyond.
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