AHL: Grand Rapids Griffins (38-27-7-4, 4th in Central, lost in first round) TEAM LINEAGE: The Griffins have been the Red Wings’ affiliate for 17 years now, which is the second longest in Red Wings history– the first being the Adirondack Red Wings from 1979 until 1999. Oddly enough, between that 1999-2002 time, the Red Wings shared affiliation with other teams in the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and Manitoba Moose. Prior to that– it was all over the place like the Kansas City Red Wings, Kansas City Blues, Tidewater Wings, Viriginia Wings, Baltimore Clippers, London (UK) Lions, San Diego Gulls, and Cleveland Barons to name a very few. FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: The Red Wings are very cautious with their prospects, but with a new GM in Steve Yzerman and a rebuild happening; maybe some of these guys will get moved up quicker. Filip Zadina could make the team out of camp, but if not– he will be the first call-up for any injury. Though he missed last season due to injury, Evgeny Svechnikov has some high upside to him, which may make him a desirable mark to shuttle to and from Detroit. The dark horse blue liner could be Vili Saarijarvi, who has taken a while to develop through the system and may get some looks this season.
ECHL: Toledo Walleye (40-23-6-3, 2nd in Central, lost in Kelly Cup final) TEAM LINEAGE: It’ll be the 10th season of affiliation for the Walleye and Red Wings, which the Red Wings third time in the Toledo market, as they had the Storm as a secondary affiliate from 1991 until 1999 and then in 2000 until 2007. There were also stops with the Louisiana IceGators, Jacksonville Bullets, Detroit Falcons, Flint Spirits, and Johnstown Wings to name some of their stops. NOTABLE GRADUATES: Among the graduates many would know, Luke Glendening was one of the bigger names to move onward, as is Petr Mrazek. Brian Lashoff and Tom McCollum also toiled through the system to get to the pros from Toledo, while players like TJ Hensick have used Toledo as a place to play at the sunset of their career.
-It’s taken the Grand Rapids Griffins a while to get going, but with points in eight of their last ten games– they’ve regained their championship form. A lot of that success is due in part to the play of Matt Puempel, who’s in the midst of a nine-game point-streak (6g 7a), while having 40 points in 35 games with the Griffins and putting Puempel fourth in the AHL in scoring. This season is looking to be Puempel’s best in the AHL. With 43 points (19g, 24a) already this season, Puempel is only five points away from tying his AHL high, which he set in his rookie season of 2013-14 with the Binghamton Senators.
-When it comes to Thatcher Demko, it’s a matter of when he’ll get the full-time call-up to the Vancouver Canucks. His play this season has been stellar (17-7-5, 2.27 GAA, .929 Sv%) and will give the Canucks an interesting move late in their season– whether to call him up to get some NHL playing time, as he’ll luckily move into that role next season– or will they allow him to stay with Utica for the rest of the season and get a taste of a playoff run??
-Since the turning of the calendar, Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman has turned on his game big time with 11g, 12a in 14 games in 2018. The Monarchs forward has been on quite the roll with multi-point games in six of his last season, which has quietly put him in second spot for league leaders in points (52) and second in the league in goals (26). Not bad for a guy getting back into the North American game full-time after traveling around Europe from 2011 until towards the end of the 2016-17 season.
-There might be a chip in Joe Cannata’s shoulder because his play right now is really telling the Colorado Avalanche he wants to be promoted. The minor-league vet is 16-2-1 with a 2.13 GAA and .934 Sv%, which puts him 2nd and 1st respectively in the league. After years of being in the AHL– whether it being the veteran back-up or the stop-gap veteran– he’s in the ECHL full-time for the first time since 2014-15. With a championship team in front of him, he could be marking his way for when the Eagles move up to the AHL next season.
-While Jake Hauswirth has had a great season– it’s going to be hard-pressed for him to go ahead and win the MVP on a non-playoff team. For me, Berkley Scott could be the front-runner, especially with the month he just had in January (9g, 7a)–which earned him Player of the Month honors. Tomas Shall should also get some kind of recognition for the year he’s had with Evansville thus far with a 14-2-2 record, while ranking top-five in GAA and save percentage.