The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/13/13 at 11:31 AM ET
Updated 2x at 2:07 PM: I just jammed it in there, but Puck Daddy suggests that you watch the Jurco video...
Today's crop of Red Wings prospect news is so substantial that it merits its own entry, and RedWingsCentral's Matthew Wuest kicks things off with an article about not-quite-ready-for-prime-time defenseman Adam Almquist. Griffins coach Jeff Blashill likes what he's seen from the undersized (maybe 5'9" and 160 pounds) but supremely talented defenseman thus far...
“He has outstanding poise with the puck and outstanding skill with the puck, so that’s allowed him to be a real good player 5-on-5 and he has a real good skill-set for the power play,” said Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill. “He can slide along the offensive blue line, show shot and pass, show shot and shoot, and he’s got a real good one-timer. His confidence has increased as the year’s gone on and that’s allowed him to be productive.”
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 173 pounds, the 22-year-old is in the second year of a three-year entry-level contract. The Red Wings wanted him to come to North America because his Swedish Elite League team, HV-71, wasn’t giving him a prominent offensive role. He already has more points [23 in 51 games] than he recorded in any of his three seasons in the SEL.
The man responsible for drafting Almquist in the seventh round (210th overall) of the 2009 draft, Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson, has long listed Almquist’s foot-speed as the biggest drawback that, along with his small stature, could prevent him from becoming an NHLer. But Blashill said Almquist has been “real smart about not putting himself in tough situations” and noted he has learned “how to make plays with the puck in breakout situations without taking big hits” or throwing the puck away.
“I don’t think that will hold him back,” Blashill said. From Blashill’s perspective, it’s all about production.
“He’s just going to have to prove he’s a real prolific point producer at this level in order to get a legit chance at the next level,” Blashill said. “That’s the reality at his size. It’s just a matter of showing he’s a high-end offensive player as a smaller guy.”
Also of note from Wuest:
Defenseman Nick Jensen (St. Cloud State, NCAA) is garnering consideration for a WCHL all-star spot and is a candidate for WCHA defenseman of the year. St. Cloud State enters the playoffs as the No. 1 seed after posting an 18-9-1 record … Forward Calle Jarnkrok (Brynas, SEL) is one of eight finalists for Swedish Elite League MVP … Right-winger Marin Frk (Halifax, QMJHL) has climbed to 12th in QMJHL scoring with 82 points in 53 games. Had he not attended the world junior, his pro-rated scoring pace would put him over 100 points and challenging for the league lead. That said, his game still has many flaws … Sproul (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL) won OHL defenseman of the month for February after recording 21 points in 11 games. He also won the award in December.
The Grand Rapids Griffins posted video interviews with Riley Sheahan, Petr Mrazek and coach Blashill on their YouTube channel...
The interviews accompany stories from the Griffins' monthly online and in-arena publication, Griffiti. Mark Newman's story about Sheahan involves his evolution into a point-per-game scorer at the AHL level, at least of late, all while recovering from what was a particularly ugly incident in October...
“Coming out of college, I wanted to focus on being a little more dynamic, a little more offensive-minded,” he said. “In college, I was viewed more as a shutdown type of player, but I think I have the skills and awareness to be a scorer.”
He got off to a slow start this season, tallying one lone assist in his first six games. Nobody was talking about him; that is, until the night of Oct. 29, when he was arrested and charged with DUI.
“I realize that I was lucky because the consequences could have been a lot worse,” he said, acknowledging that he could have hurt not only himself but others. “It was a really bad decision. The toughest part was telling my parents and forcing the ones who are closest to me to go through all that,” he said. “Telling the team was tough, too.”
Sheahan was grateful for the support shown by the Red Wings and Griffins organizations after he felt he had tarnished their reputations.
“(Red Wings assistant general manager) Jim Nill said, ‘We don’t want to help you as a hockey player right now; we’re just concerned for you as a person.’ That meant so much coming from an organization that has had so many talented players over the years. It just shows their class, that they cared more about getting me back on track.”
His Griffins teammates rallied behind him as well. “Coming to the rink every day was easier because the guys wouldn’t ask about it. They knew I had screwed up and they knew I wanted to put it behind me and move forward.”
Sheahan started meeting with counselors and not only resolved to be a teetotaler but also to refocus himself on the ice in an effort to distance himself from the distractions. He would never characterize his arrest as a blessing in disguise, but the incident helped make him aware of all that he could lose.
“It was a wakeup call. It made me realize that I have an opportunity that a lot of other people will never experience. A lot of people only can wish that they would get this chance.”
Newman's story about Petr Mrazek involves a slightly steadier progression toward top prospect status...
Mrazek’s professional career started with a 2-1 record in Toledo, where he posted a 2.02 GAA.
“I went there thinking, ‘I have to go there and do my best, play every game hard and we’ll see what happens, if I will get called up by Grand Rapids.' I was happy when I got the chance after only two weeks into the season.”
Recalled by the Griffins, Mrazek proceeded to set a franchise record by winning his first six starts.
“Every goaltender wants to have a good start because it helps build your confidence,” he said. “With six straight wins, it was a great start. It showed that I could play here.”
He proceeded to get even better. In his seven starts during the month of December, Mrazek never allowed more than two goals. He posted a 1.71 GAA and an equally impressive .937 save percentage. Registering the win for the Western Conference in the AHL All-Star Game on Jan. 28 was the start of an incredible week that saw Mrazek record his first pro shutout (1-0 vs. Abbotsford on Feb. 2), earn his first recall to Detroit (Feb. 3) and be named the AHL’s Player of the Week (Feb. 4). Despite his success, he didn’t expect to earn a promotion to Detroit so early in his career.
“My dream was to play at least one NHL game – that would be very nice – but I wasn’t thinking about Detroit. I just wanted to get in some professional games here in Grand Rapids.”
The opportunity to make his NHL debut came when the Red Wings decided to give a night off to Jimmy Howard, who had started the first nine games of the season. Mrazek, who stopped the first 14 shots he faced, didn’t look out of place.
“I wasn’t nervous,” he admitted. “For me, it was a dream come true and I wanted to enjoy every minute and have fun. I was just really excited to step onto the ice.”
Kyle Kujawa's story about Blashill discusses his involvement in the CCHA and NCAA playoffs during his tenure as Western Michigan University's head coach...
First-year head coach Jeff Blashill has his Grand Rapids Griffins in good shape to make the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs, as the club has held first place in the Midwest Division for most of the season and sits among the top seeds in the Western Conference with just over 20 games to play.
But it’s not the first time Blashill has coached a team to success in West Michigan. He helped the CCHA’s Western Michigan Broncos earn an at-large bid to the 2011 NCAA Tournament after a successful season and strong showing in their conference championship.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Blashill said. “It doesn’t seem like I was only there for one season, based on the memories I have from that year. We had a group of players that were committed to doing things that hadn’t been done in a long time there.”
In 2010-11, Blashill’s lone season at the helm, the Broncos finished with a 19-13-10 regular season record, which secured their first winning season since 2001-02 and first berth in the NCAA Tournament since 1995-96. After Blashill departed for an assistant coaching job with the Detroit Red Wings, longtime NHL coach Andy Murray led the team to a spot in the 2012 tournament, solidifying it as an up-and-coming power in college hockey.
“There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Blashill continued. “When I was offered and took the job, I believed that Western could become a national power. For me, it’s more happiness than anything. There are so many people that have so much pride in that program and have worked for so many years, through some tough times. To see it now be a really prominent program in the country is a great thing.”
And the Griffins also published stories about try-out-turned regular defenseman Brent Skinner, veteran defenseman Nathan Paetsch, Jeff Hoggan's Calder Cup run and news about the Griffins Youth Foundation's initiatives of late.
This is just...artsy. And pretty cool:
Or, in YouTube format:
Update: the Griffins posted their interview with Nathan Paetsch a bit late:
Update #2: Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski spoke to the Griffins about their inspiration for the Jurco video;
The Griffins had been thinking about long exposure images inside a darkened arena, with LED lights on a puck for example. The shots would be wide so the lights would trail behind the puck.
(Yes ... an actual glow puck.)
With that already percolating in his noggin, Gajewski one day saw his friend wrap his bike in electric luminescent wire. His immediate thought: “Man, it would be cool to wrap a player in that ..." Along with that idea, he also found a clip featuring a snowboarder using the material to glow in the dark while boarding down a mountainside, showing the potential for the idea to work in motion.
The Griffins – who have tinkered with Go Pro cameras in the past to bring fans into the action during practice and feel like a flying T-shirt – afforded Gajewski and his team creative freedom and financial backing. Each six-foot strand of the wire costs $6, and the team used 17 total to wrap around Jurco.
“We could have used 100 more of them,” said Gajewski.
Jurco was chosen for his trick shot reputation. But there was one problem: He couldn’t perform the same stick magic due to the wire being wrapped around his lumber.
“We had to do it on the blade. We couldn’t use Jurco for his Jurco-ness, as we’ve done in the past,” lamented Gajewski, who also couldn’t illuminate the puck to a desired effect.
Still, the finished product is amazing, adding to Jurco’s already considerable online viral video legend. Even if he looks like the Sky Skeleton from Scooby-Doo.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.