There remains no end in sight for the NHL lockout, so while the Detroit Red Wings wait for the all-clear, we’ll turn our attention to the next best local option: the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit’s top minor-league affiliate.
The Griffins open their 2012-13 training camp on Monday, with 31 players on the preliminary roster. Which youngsters should you keep an eye on, both in camp and beyond?
Here are five intriguing prospects:
• Adam Almquist, defenseman (Acquired: 2009 draft, No. 210 overall)
You’re not going to doubt the Red Wings’ ability to uncover a gem in Sweden, are you? Almquist might be the most intriguing prospect in the upper reaches of Detroit’s system heading into 2012-13, and if he sticks in Grand Rapids, you could be hearing a lot more about him soon.
Almquist spent the past two seasons with HV71 of the Swedish Elite League, but the Red Wings have been frustrated that he hasn’t received more playing time, especially on the power play. That’s because Almquist has a very high upside on the offensive end thanks to his solid puck-moving ability — something missing on Detroit’s blue line now with Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom retiring.
Given the lack of top-notch defensive depth in the organization, the Red Wings might opt to give Almquist a shot at a top-four role and a No. 1 power-play spot in Grand Rapids.
• Joakim Andersson, center (Acquired: 2007 draft, No. 88)
Andersson got a cup of coffee in Detroit last year, appearing in five preseason games and then seeing time in five regular-season outings as well. He’s probably not a guy that the Wings would consider carrying in 2012-13 (if there’s a season), but he may be an injury call-up and could fight for a fourth-line role in 2013-14.
Andersson, 23, is a skilled two-way player who took a big step-up on the offensive end last season — he had 21 goals and 30 assists in 73 games for Grand Rapids. He’ll do it all and definitely could develop into a guy that Mike Babcock wants with the big club.
• Mitchell Callahan, forward (Acquired: 2009 draft, No. 180)
Callahan is undersized at 5-foot-11, but he’s a gritty, abrasive player who had 103 penalty minutes last year and topped out at 188 PIM back with Kelowna of the WHL in 2008-09.
When you talk about wingers, guys like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen and Martin Frk have higher upsides. If Callahan can up his offensive game, though (just nine points in 2011-12), he might be able to carve his name into Detroit’s future plans. The franchise simply does not have a lot of players like him.
• Brian Lashoff, defenseman (Acquired: Signed as free agent, 2008)
We already mentioned the Red Wings’ lack of organizational depth on the blue line, but Lashoff may be the wild card. Lashoff, 22, had a tough rookie year in the AHL in 2010-11, mainly due to injuries, but he responded well last season to put up 19 points in 76 games.
The whole package has not come together just yet, but Lashoff has all the attributes you look for in a defender: size, smarts, offensive potential, lock-down capabilities. Lashoff figures to have a top-four, and possibly even top-two role in Grand Rapids — don’t be surprised if he’s on the top pairing with Brendan Smith until the Wings start — so he’ll have a chance to prove his worth.
• Petr Mrazek, goalie (Acquired: 2010 draft, No. 141)
The Red Wings have struggled to uncover any reliable goalies behind Jimmy Howard — Thomas McCollum has not developed nearly as well as the organization hoped, and Jordan Pearce has minimal upside. Mrazek is the new hope.
Mrazek had a terrific 2011-12 campaign, both for the OHL’s Ottawa 67′s and for the Czech Republic’s U-20 team. Mrazek is smallish at 6-foot-0, but he makes up for it with his athleticism and motor. Coming from the Czech Republic, the obvious comparison for Mrazek’s style of play is Dominik Hasek, and Mrazek does bring some of that unorthodox play to the net.
He’ll be a rookie in the AHL this season, but he figures to be the Griffins’ No. 1 guy and has a chance to move up quickly.