Griffins' exit denies Rasmussen taste of pro playoffs

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Wings prospect Michael Rasmussen had 31 goals in 47 games in the WHL this past season.

Sure, it was disappointing to see the Grand Rapids Griffins’ season end Monday in the AHL playoffs.

But for Red Wings fans, maybe no other reason more than not seeing prospect Michael Rasmussen get a taste of professional hockey playoffs.

Rasmussen, most likely, saw his junior career end Monday when his Tri-City team was eliminated by Everett in the Western Hockey League semifinals.

Rasmussen, 19, did everything he could to keep Tri-City going as long as it could.

With 33 points (including 16 goals) in 14 games, Rasmussen ranked second in WHL playoff scoring, including a league-leading seven power-play goals.

Had the Griffins still been competing in the AHL playoffs, Rasmussen (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) would have joined them to get a taste of pro hockey.

But Grand Rapids saw its chance of defending the Calder Cup end with a 5-1 loss to the Manitoba Moose in the first round of the playoffs.

More: Griffins coach Todd Nelson contemplates NHL future

So, now, the Red Wings will wait for Rasmussen — Detroit's 2017 first-round draft pick — in training camp in September, before making his likely NHL debut the following month.

Rasmussen was impressive in training camp last season, but was sent back to Tri-City where he dominated junior hockey.

In 47 games, Rasmussen had 31 goals and 28 assists with a plus-17 plus-minus rating and dominated the WHL with his size and skill.

With one more year of junior eligibility, Rasmussen’s options next season are simply playing the NHL or junior hockey — not Grand Rapids.

So with nothing left to prove in junior, the Red Wings are penciling Rasmussen into the NHL lineup for next season.

General manager Ken Holland said when the regular season ended, the organization will give Rasmussen the opportunity to make the opening-night roster.

Rasmussen as well as Griffins forward Evgeny Svechnikov and defensemen Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek and Dennis Cholowski are all possibilities to start next season in the NHL.

“I’m hoping and expecting that a minimum of two, maybe four or five kids, between the ages of 19 and 22 are on the roster next year that weren’t on the team to start this season,” Holland said. “I want to get those young people onto this roster when they can help us be competitive.”

Another prospect who could have gotten a taste of pro hockey in Grand Rapids was forward Givani Smith.

With his junior team in Kitchener being eliminated in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, Smith, 20, saw his final junior season come to an abrupt end.

Smith, though, wasn’t in the lineup. He was suspended one game for unsportsmanlike conduct (flipping off the Sault Ste. Marie bench) in Game 5.

Smith (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) had an excellent playoff season, with 18 points (11 goals) in 18 games for Kitchener this spring. He had 17 goals during the regular season, splitting the season between Kitchener and Guelph.

Smith, a 2016 second-round pick, will play in Grand Rapids next season.