The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/01/14 at 04:02 AM ET
As I'm behind by a few days, this will be something of a "prospect catchy-uppy" post, and I'll try to separate "tonight's" results from previous nights' events, on a league-by-league basis, as per usual:
In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins are spending the weekend in lovely Abbotsford, British Columbia, tangling with the Calgary Flames' AHL affiliate, and the opener of their back-to-back slate of games yielded a favorable result by the narrowest of margins. The Griffins blew 2-1 and 3-2 leads but emerged with a 4-3 shootout win thanks to a 31-of-34-shots and a 7-of-8-shootout-shooter-stopping performance by one Petr Mrazek.
The Griffins' website recounts the game's details...
Two defensemen scored for the Grand Rapids Griffins in a shootout to help the Griffins to a 4-3 win over the Abbotsford Heat on Friday at Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre.
In his second career shootout attempt, Brennan Evans slipped a puck by Olivier Roy with a deke in the fifth round and Gleason Fournier netted a wrister in round eight for the win. It was Fournier’s first shootout attempt this season.
Backed by a 31-save performance by Petr Mrazek in his fourth consecutive win, the Midwest Division-leading Griffins (34-17-2-3, 73 pts.) closed in on first place in the Western Conference, currently held by the Texas Stars (33-16-3-5, 74 pts.). The Heat trail closely behind in fourth place with a 33-17-4-2 record (72 pts.)
The Griffins and Heat will meet for a rematch Saturday at 10 p.m. EST in Abbotsford.
The scoring started when Ben Street threw a shot at Mrazek during a Heat power play and Sven Baertschi redirected the puck through Mrazek’s five hole at 6:11.
For the second straight game, Griffins’ leading scorer Teemu Pulkkinen tallied two goals. He evened the score at 16:44 when he wound up and let a rocket rip from the top of the right circle. His goal beat Roy stick-side, and the first period closed out at 1-1.
At 3:29 of the second period, Nick Jensen’s slapshot from the point found its way through traffic, and Pulkkinen was at the crease to tip the puck in. The assist marked Jensen’s first AHL point.
The Griffins dominated the shot column in the second frame, outshooting the Heat 17-7. Despite Abbotsford only managing two shots through the first 15 minutes of the period, Max Reinhart tied the game at 16:09 with a wrister into the lower right corner.
Calle Jarnkrok’s power play helper with 20 seconds remaining in the period gave Grand Rapids the advantage heading into the third period. Adam Almquist sent a cross-ice pass to Andrej Nestrasil, who faked a shot and found Jarnkrok in the slot. Jarnkrok snuck a wrister past Roy for his second goal in as many games.
Reinhart’s second marker of the night at 16:07 of the third period evened the playing field through the rest of regulation. Baertschi found an open lane from the blue line to Reinhart, and the redirection beat Mrazek.
Despite a series of breakout plays for each team through the overtime period, the extra time wasn’t enough to decide the game. Baertschi scored the Heat’s only goal of the shootout with a snipe into the lower left corner in the fourth round.
Roy finished with 34 saves.
Notes: The Griffins are without 2014 AHL All-Star defenseman Alexey Marchenko, who is slated for surgery after suffering an ankle injury in Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Admirals. He is expected to be out for the remainder of the regular season.
Three Stars: 1. ABB Reinhart (two goals); 2. GR Pulkkinen (two goals); 3. ABB Baertschi (goal, assist)
The Heat's website posted a superb photo gallery from the game, and their YouTube account may or may not post highlights from the game, but We All Bleed Red posted Nick Jensen's first professional goal:
Update: The Canadian Press also posted a recap:
Fournier scored the shootout winner as the Griffins defeated the Abbotsford Heat 4-3 Friday in American Hockey League action.
"I was a little bit surprised but it feels good to contribute to the two points," said Fournier. "(Head coach Jeff) Blashill made the call, with his instinct I guess."
Fournier, who has no points this year and just two career AHL goals, beat Olivier Roy stick side to clinch the win for the visitors.
"That was nice from our defencemen," said Grand Rapids' Teemu Pulkkinen. "(Brennan Evans) had a nice move five-hole and then Fournier made a huge shot. That's huge for us that we have D that can score in a shootout. And (Petr) Mrazek made a really good play against (Chad) Billins. It was perfect."
Pulkkinen scored twice, giving him a team-leading 23 goals and four in two games. Calle Jarnkrok had a goal and two assists. Andrej Nestrasil had two assists.
"Pulkkinen was big with two goals, again, like in Milwaukee," said Fournier. "Those guys, when they take charge, you can really see it."
Mrazek stopped 31 shots in the win, the team's fourth-straight, and puts Grand Rapids (34-17-5) just one point back of Texas for the Western Conference lead.
"We were in first place all season, so we're obviously a really good club," said Fournier, Detroit's '09 third-round choice. "Lately it was a bit hard, but we've got that winning streak rolling again. It's nice to win against a team like Abbotsford. Heading into the game we had 71 points each so we're back in the lead."
In Major Junior hockey, in the QMJHL, Phillipe Hudon scored a goal and finished at +3 in the Victoriaville Tigres' 7-1 win over Chicoutimi;
A certain Anthony Mantha registered 2 goals, an assist, a +4 and was named the game's first star as his Val-d'Or Foreurs defeated Gatineau 5-1, and Mantha now has 52 goals, 56 assists and 108 points registered over the course of 51 games played;
In the OHL, Zach Nastasiuk registered an assist in his Owen Sound Attack's 4-3 shootout loss to London;
Jake Paterson stopped 36 of 38 shots as his Saginaw Spirit defeated Kitchener 5-2;
Andreas Athanasiou registered a goal but was denied in the shootout as his Barrie Colts defeated Plymouth 2-1 in a shootout. Athanasiou's registered 42 goals, 41 assists and 83 points over the course of 59 games played;
In the WHL, Marc McNulty was held off the scoresheet as his Prince George Cougars lost 5-3 to Victoria;
Mitchell Wheaton scored a goal and finished at +2, and Marek Tvrdon posted an assist and a +2 in the Kelowna Rockets' 6-0 stomping of Vancouver,
In the statistical outlier that is the BCHL, David Pope scored a goal in the West Kelowna Warriors' 6-4 win over Trail;
And in NCAA hockey, Ben Marshall registered an assist in the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers' 5-1 win over Penn State;
McKee, who's sat out about half of WMU's games and has played as both a forward and defenseman, earned rare praise from WMU coach Andy Murray after the game, as noted by Michigan Hockey's Sam O'Toole:
Mike McKee recorded his first career collegiate goal with 21 seconds remaining in the third period after getting great positioning in front of the net.
The Detroit Red Wings’ seventh-round draft pick in 2012 made the move to forward this season, and after the game, Broncos head coach Andy Murray praised McKee’s progression through his freshman season.
“Mike has worked extremely hard, and we have been doing extra sessions with him,” Murray said. “We decided that rather than have him play games and him not totally being ready, we would give him extra skill sessions. Coach Ferschweiler has been working with him in the morning on his skating and doing different things, and it looks like it’s paying dividends.”
McKee's currently listed at 6'5" and 250 pounds (these numbers are accurate), and he played as a bruising, scrap-happy defenseman in the USHL. Not a bad weapon to have up one's sleeve as a checking forward.
While I was having fun with anxiety attacks and what-not:
In the AHL, the Griffins defeated the Milwaukee Admirals 1-0 in a shotoout this past Sunday, and on Wednesday, Teemu Pulkkinen had 2 goals and an assist, Calle Jarnkrok had a goal and 2 assists and the Griffins defeated Milwaukee 5-1. Michigan Hockey's Michael Caples noted that both of Pulkkinen's goals came via his "Holy Slapper":
In the ECHL, if you haven't heard by now, the Toledo Walleye will hold their "Pink in the Rink" games sans coach Nick Vitucci, who stepped down on Tuesday. For the present moment, assistant coach Dan Watson will take over in Vitucci's stead, and Vitucci expressed his frustration to the Toledo Blade's Rachel Lenzi:
"We’re struggling in finding the right path to get this ship going in the right direction,” Vitucci said inside the Walleye locker room at Huntington Center. “We’ve talked about the dual affiliations [with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks] and just a whole bunch of items that we want to get moving in the right direction.”
The Walleye are 16-31-4 and in last place with 36 points in the ECHL's Eastern Conference, and have been plagued by injuries and roster turnover through the course of this season.
“The players are players. They come to work, they want to get better, they’re professionals, and that’s what you expect out of them, and that’s what you get,” said Vitucci, who is 289-262-52 in nearly nine seasons of coaching the Walleye and the Toledo Storm. “But the frustration level was off the charts. It wears on you consistently.”
Napoli said that Vitucci, who also served as the team’s director of player personnel, will remain with the Walleye in a capacity to be determined.
Coaches in the ECHL are said to earn $45,000-$75,000 per season. There were no financial terms available.
Dan Watson, an assistant coach with the Walleye since 2009, takes over as interim head coach. He will debut Saturday against Greenville at Huntington Center.
“Right now, we’re last in the league in giving up goals  so we’re going to be a defensive team,” said Watson, 34, who was a defenseman for seven seasons in the ECHL, American Hockey League, and the United Hockey League. “But I want to play fast. I want to make sure we have good puck control, making sure we have guys driving hard to the net. I want to be a team that when other teams come in here or we’re on the road, that we’re a tough team to play against. And that’s what I’m going to demand out of these 21 guys right here, right now.”
Watson told the Toledo Blade's Mark Monroe that he knows what's what...
Watson, who has handled the defense for Vitucci since the organization’s inaugural season in 2009-10, said he hopes the change will provide an instant jolt of energy.
“And then we will try to sustain that for the remaining 21 games,” he said. “I’m coaching for my job for next year, and there are players here that are still playing for a job next year. We won’t take it easy. We will all show what we are worth.”
Watson said he will provide “a different voice” and will employ new systems and shake up line combinations.
“I want to provide passion for the players,” Watson said. “I am going to try to get these guys to buy into what I’m all about. It will be a little different philosophy.”
And Red Wings prospect Max Nicastro told Monroe that he understands what's at stake for himself and his Walleye teammates:
“You're playing for a job for next year,” Nicastro said. “That's motivation. No one on this team is a quitter. You have to show up everyday and see what happens.”
Nicastro, who will turn 24 on Sunday, is in the second year of his entry-level contract with the Red Wings.
“I want to show my teammates, coaches, and whoever else is watching … that I'm a good teammate and that I'm a physical player,” Nicastro said.
The 6-foot-3 and 225 pound defenseman has 15 points — all assists.
This is Nicastro's second stint with the Walleye. The native of Thousand Oaks, Calif. played in nine games for the Walleye last season during his rookie campaign. Nicastro, who spent most of last season in Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, scored two goals and had five assists in the regular season for Toledo. He also appeared in four playoff games for the Walleye and had one assist.
“I don't like to get scored on,” Nicastro said. “Every shift I go out and tell myself to not get scored on.”
In Europe, Sweden's SHL season is winding down, and on Tuesday, AIK Stockholm's Mattias Janmark registered an assist and played 19:26 in AIK's 4-3 loss to Farjestads BK;
Mattias Backman played 15:28 in Linkopings HC's 6-5 shootout loss to AIK Skelleftea;
On Thursday, Janmark played 19:38 but didn't score in AIK Stockholm's 6-2 loss to Skelleftea;
And Backman played 19:20 in LHC's 3-2 shootout win over Modo.
In the QMJHL, on Wednesday, Phillipe Hudon scored a goal in the Victoriaville Tigres' 3-2 loss to Sherbrooke;
And Anthony Mantha didn't register a point and finished at -3 as his Val-d'Or Foreurs dropped a 4-0 decision to Drummondville.
In the OHL, last Sunday, Jake Paterson stopped 39 of 42 shots as his Saginaw Spirit defeated the Tyler Bertuzzi-less Guelph Storm 6-3;
On Monday, Andreas Athanasiou didn't register a point in the Barrie Colts' 5-3 win over Sudbury;
Zach Nastasiuk didn't register a point as his Owen Sound Attack lost 6-3 to, again, the Tyler Bertuzzi-less Guelph Storm (Bertuzzi's likely out for the year with neck issues);
On Wednesday, Athanasiou didn't register a point in the Barrie Colts' 3-2 loss to North Bay;
On Thursday, Guelph defeated North Bay 5-4;
And the Windsor Spitfires shut down Athanasiou as they defeated his Barrie Colts 4-1;
In the WHL, on Wednesday, Marek Tvrdon had a goal and 3 assists and finished at +3--though teammate Mitchell Wheaton was held off the scoresheet--as Tvrdon and Wheaton defeated Marc McNulty's Prince George Cougars by a 9-5 tally, with McNulty finishing at -2;
On Thursday, Wheaton didn't register a point but Tvrdon had 2 goals (though not a shootout marker) in the Rockets' 4-3 shootout win over Tri-City...
And in the, "Of more general interest" category:
1. RedWingsCentral's latest prospect report noted that while Mattias Backman hasn't posted tons of points playing on Linkopings HC's blueline, the Red Wings believe that the lanky defenseman's something of an ace in the hole...
“He’s a better 1-on-1 player (than last season), and that [+23] plus-minus rating tells you that,” said Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson. “He’s good at eliminating guys. Sometimes, still, you can see the youth. He’s a bit optimistic at times — he likes to pinch down a bit too often — but he’s winning more battles and looking more experienced out there.”
The 6-foot-2 176-pounder has always been a smooth, mobile puck-carrying defenseman, drawing comparisons to Vancouver Canucks blueliner Alexander Edler. He put himself on the map with Sweden’s gold-medal-winning squad at the IIHF world junior championship squad in 2012 and he signed a three-year entry-level contract with Detroit last May.
Andersson said Red Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer scouted two of Backman’s games in January and came away very impressed.
“He may be the most excited about him in our entire organization,” Andersson said.
According to Andersson, the Wings don't necessarily plan on bringing Backman over next season because he'll remain their property for two more years...
2. You won't be surprised at the name leading Hockeysfuture's Adam Schnepp's mid-season Top 20 rankings list...
1. (3) Anthony Mantha, RW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 20th overall, 2013
Rarely has the Red Wings system seen a prospect with such prodigious offensive talent. Dogged by accusations of inconsistency in his draft year, Anthony Mantha has silenced many critics with more consistent play in 2013-14. Oh, and his 105 points in 49 games certainly helps his case as well. He has put up video game-like numbers in the QMJHL by utilizing his incredible puck handling, offensive instincts, and accurate shot.
But numbers 19 and 20 bear mentioning as well:
19. (11) Martin Frk, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2012
Playing with incredible talents like Nathan MacKinnon (COL) and Jonathan Drouin (TBL) may have been good for Martin Frk's game but it may also have inflated Frk's point total (and expectations). Frk has had a difficult transition to the AHL. He was moved down to the ECHL after it became apparent that Frk needed to work on his skating and defense away from the AHL. Frk has since worked his way back to the AHL but needs to rediscover his scoring touch.
Frk has experienced significant difficulties adjusting to professonal hockey, but playing alongside the #1 and #2 overall draft picks from last summer's haul obviously exacerbated his issues. Frk remains a stocky sniper with a mean shot and a bulldog's nose for the front o the net, but he's also living proof that the road from Major Junior superstar to solid pro prospect is not a linear one...
20. (20) Nick Jensen, D, 6.0C
Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2009
The 2013-14 season has been a tale of what may have been for Nick Jensen. Injured in a prospects camp brawl with Tyler Bertuzzi, Jensen lost a significant portion of the season. He has since recovered from his shoulder injury and has won a spot in the Grand Rapids lineup. His skating skill is still intact, but the jury is still out regarding Jensen's transition to the AHL.
The same can be said for Jensen, who is a fantastic puck-lugging skater, and the Griffins' loss of Alexey Marchenko to ankle surgery may give Jensen the break he needs.
3. And, via Yahoo Sports' Neate Sager, the Vancouver Province's Steve Ewen explained some of the circumstances of Marek Tvrdon's return to junior hockey after a marginally successful attempt to break into the pro ranks with the ECHL's Toledo Walleye earlier this year:
Tvrdon lasted one game with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins before being shipped down another rung on the hockey ladder to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. Frustrated with his development there, Detroit offered to send him back to junior, but wanted him to go to a contender. Vancouver obviously didn’t want to break up their mix to bring him back.
Ideally, you don’t trade a guy who had 107 points in 90 career regular season contests with you to a team in your division, and one that you play in four of your final eight games of the season to boot. There simply weren’t any other suitable suitors for Vancouver if they wanted to receive something in return for Tvrdon.
Kelowna traded fellow over-age forward Zach Franko to the Kootenay Ice for bantam draft picks to open up a spot, and then sent a 2014 second-round selection to Vancouver for the rights to Tvrdon.
He started slowly, but, playing alongside youngsters Rourke Chartier, 17, and Nick Merkley, 16, he’s started to find his form. Coming into this series with Vancouver, he has 10 points in his past five games, giving him nine goals and 19 points in 20 games total in Kelowna.
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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.