Playoff hockey ‘extremely important’ for Wings’ prospects
Detroit — Get ready for playoff action, Red Wings fans.
Not with the Red Wings, obviously, but with the minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Griffins begin the American Hockey League (AHL) playoffs Friday with a home game against Milwaukee, then host Milwaukee on Sunday at Van Andel Arena for Game 2 in the first-round, best-of-five series.
At 47-23-6 (100 points), the Griffins are the second seed in the Central Division, while Milwaukee (43-26-4, 93 points) is the third.
The teams met in the first round last year as well, with the Griffins holding the Admirals to three goals in sweeping the series, 3-0.
“This is extremely important for the development of any young player,” said Ryan Martin, Red Wings assistant general manager, who oversees the Griffins. “It’s a different game from the regular season.”
Just as in the NHL, the pace and energy of the games intensifies, along with the level of play.
Since winning the Calder Cup under coach Jeff Blashill (now the Red Wings coach) in 2013, the Griffins have appeared in more playoff games (59) than any other AHL organization.
Eight Griffins who made their NHL debuts with the Red Wings this season will compete in these AHL playoffs: Forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, Mitch Callahan, Matt Lorito, Tomas Nosek and Evgeny Svechnikov, defensemen Dan Renouf and Robbie Russo, and goaltender Jared Coreau.
That slice of the NHL was educational, but probably nothing like professional postseason hockey.
“Getting to go through a best-of-seven series, a best-of-five in the first round, getting to go through all the rigors, it’s important,” said Martin, who oversees the Griffins among his responsibilities. “You see the development of some our players (on the Red Wings). It’s important to experience.”
The Griffins have a good blend of experience and youth.
Callahan, and defensemen Brian Lashoff and Nathan Paetsch, are the lone remaining players from the 2013 championship team.
But players like Nosek, Bertuzzi, Coreau and Lorito have previous AHL playoff experience, which makes it easier to adjust for players such as Svechnikov, defenseman Filip Hronek (second-round pick, 2016) and forward Axel Holmstrom (seventh round, 2014), who’ll be making their playoff debuts.
Hronek was a late-season addition after completing his junior hockey season, and has been impressive in Grand Rapids.
Coreau has split time in net the last two seasons, but goes into this playoff season as the No. 1 goalie.
The performances of Nosek and Svechnikov, who both could have NHL jobs next season, and Bertuzzi, who has had two impressive AHL playoff springs, will be monitored.
“Bertuzzi is a player who has shown the ability to raise his level of play (in the playoffs),” Martin said.
Milwaukee vs. Grand Rapids
What: AHL first-round playoffs, best-of-five series
Friday: at Grand Rapids, 7
Sunday: at Grand Rapids, 4
Tuesday: at Milwaukee, 7
April 28: at Milwaukee, 7, if necessary
May 1: at Grand Rapids, 7, if necessary
Key Griffins: Matt Lorito (22 goals, 34 assists), Ben Street (25 goals, 30 assists), Evgeny Svechnikov (20 goals, 31 assists), goaltender Jared Coreau (19-11-3, 2.33 GAA, .917 SVS).