Griffins’ playoff success bodes well for Red Wings’ future

Teemu Pulkkinen had five goals and eight points in 31 games in Detroit this season.

Rick Osentoski

The Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings’ top minor-league affiliate, rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win their opening-round Calder Cup series and extend their season. But the reviews are mixed regarding the development of several players the Wings are banking on for the future.

The defense looks strong, with several players coming. But up front most of the franchise’s best prospects are already in Detroit. And one player, former No. 1 pick Anthony Mantha, has not come close to meeting expectations.

"Very, very, very disappointing," said Wings Senior Vice President Jim Devellano, who saw the Griffins play their final three games, including Sunday’s 3-1 win, over the Toronto Marlies. "And I say that with a lot of sadness. Coming out of junior, we had such high hopes for him."

In his first professional season after a splendid junior career, Mantha, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound left wing, had 15 goals and 33 points in 62 games in the regular season. He has one assist in five playoff games.

On the brighter side, after leading the American Hockey League in goal-scoring this season with 34, left wing Teemu Pulkkinen picked up where he left with six goals in five playoff games. That’s 40 goals in 51 AHL games this season. He had five goals and eight points in 31 games in Detroit this season. Pulkkinen is a pure shooter with an overpowering shot, and the Wings hope his success in the AHL will translate into a 20-25 goal-scorer in the NHL.

The Wings also have been impressed with the play of center Tomas Nosek, a defensive specialist who scored 11 goals and 34 points and finished a team-leading plus-30 in 55 games this season.

"He’s a terrific young two-way player — a 200-foot player," Devellano said of Nosek, a 22-year-old Czech who should find his way to Detroit sometime next season.

Another young forward developed in Grand Rapids is speedy winger Landon Ferraro, promoted to Detroit for the final three regular-season games and all seven playoff games against Tampa Bay. But because he played in those 10 games the Wings were not able to send Ferraro back to Grand Rapids, as he would have to clear waivers.

And because of the way Ferraro performed on a line with Luke Glendening and Drew Miller, most of the 29 other teams would snap him up quickly off the waiver wire.

Detroit’s brightest NHL prospects are on defense, where three players who spent time with the Wings this season are continuing to develop and excel in the AHL: Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet and Brian Lashoff. Another, Nick Jensen, is also developing nicely, the Wings say. Marchenko and Jensen are right shots, which improves their chances of breaking into Detroit’s lineup.

One guy who looked like an NHL prospect at mid-season has been backsliding, however. Ryan Sproul, a fleet, 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-shot defenseman with a big shot from the point, was a healthy scratch in Grand Rapids’ final two games against Toronto after Marchenko returned from Detroit. Sproul was Detroit’s second-round pick (55th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

But there are still four NHL keepers on the Griffins’ defense.

"They’re all solid guys, and they give us some depth on defense for sure," Devellano said. "The problem is that none of them are the answer to Nicklas Lidstrom."

In fact, none of the four are projected as top-pair defensemen. Some could be 3-4 defensemen on the high side. All will be 5-6 defensemen in the NHL, Devellano said.

In other words, there are no Lidstroms or Brian Rafalskis coming.

"Where do you get that big guy, that first or second defenseman who can produce points?" Devellano asked. "That’s our problem. The only place you get those guys is (high) in the draft. And simply because of where we draft we don’t get those guys."

That’s the down side of success, what coach Mike Babcock means when he says, "we win too much."

Meantime, coach Jeff Blashill’s Griffins continue on to the Western Conference semifinals in a best-of-seven series with the Rockford IceHogs. Games 1 and 2 are Wednesday and Friday, both 7 p.m., at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids. It’s a 2-3-2 format.

The teams finished just a point apart in the regular season. Grand Rapids won the Midwest Division title with 100 points (46-22-6-2) to Rockford’s 99 (46-23-5-2).