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2021 22 grand rapids season preview Field Pass Hockey

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2022-23 Grand Rapids Griffins Season Preview

Head coach Ben Simon leads the Griffins through preseason drills (Photo Courtesy: Nicolas Carrillo)

2022-23 Grand Rapids Griffins Season Preview

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The 2021-22 season was a rocky one for the Grand Rapids Griffins – the promise of a perennial playoff contender returning to postseason prominence was quickly derailed following a disastrous west coast road trip and amplified by a rash of injuries. When the dust finally settled, the Griffins found themselves in the basement of the Central looking up at the rest of the division.

In the shadow of a season lost, however, the Griffins coaching staff and management sees the light. With a core of tried and tested veterans surrounded by an infusion of talented prospects into the lineup, Grand Rapids has its eyes set on a return to meaningful hockey in April and May in western Michigan.

Last Season in Review:

2021-22 Record: 33-35-6-2 (26th in AHL)

Season Summary: Consistency – or lack thereof – was the name of the game for the Griffins in 21/22. After a slump out of the gate put them into an early hole, the Griffins battled back into playoff position until about mid-March. Between a brutal road trip in California, the loss of top defenseman Ryan Murphy to injury and the loss of top goaltender Calvin Pickard to call-up, the Griffins struggled to maintain their position down the stretch. Compounded with the loss of their depth that they could ill afford with more call-ups to their parent club in Detroit and a heavy dose of the Chicago Wolves, who won 9 out of 10 contests in the season series, the Griffins saw their season sink to the bottom of the standings in the Central Division.

Leading Scorer: Jonatan Berggren: 21 goals, 43 assists, 64 points

Goals For: 209 (22nd in AHL) Goals Against: 240 (26th in AHL)

Powerplay: 16.7% (28th in AHL)

Penalty Kill: 75.4% (29th in AHL)

Offseason Moves:

Key Acquisitions:

  • Simon Edvinsson: The biggest name coming to the Griffins is the 2021 6th overall draft pick. Making his North American debut this season, Edvinsson has all the tools for success as a top pairing defenseman. At 6’6, 207 lbs, he already has man-size and will only fill out his frame better with age and conditioning. An especially smooth skater at his size, Edvinsson brings a dynamic that the Griffins haven’t seen on their blue line since fellow 6th overall pick Moritz Seider anchored the Griffins blue line in 2019-20. While still just 20 years old, Edvinsson will have to adjust to the smaller ice surface after coming over from Europe and will have his growing pains like any other young defender. At the same time, Edvinsson’s skillset allows him to be the kind of impact player that can change the course of the Griffins’ season.
  • Matt Luff: One of the key areas Griffins management wanted to address was their forward depth, and Detroit GM Steve Yzerman helped shore up the top six with the addition of the veteran Luff. Last year, Luff was over a point-per-game player with the division foe Milwaukee Admirals with 31 points in 30 games. Luff also has 87 NHL games in his pocket with the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators, bringing that high level pro experience to Grand Rapids and imparting his wisdom on some of the younger forwards such as Cross Hanas, making his pro debut with the Griffins this October.
  • Jussi Olkinuora/Sebastian Cossa: This is a bit of a two-for, but the acquisitions of both goaltenders can’t be understated. Olkinuora brings 9 seasons of professional experience and an Olympic Gold Medal around his neck to the Griffins, and he will be battling incumbent Victor Brattstrom for the starting crease. Cossa, the 15th overall selection in the 2021 draft, comes in with incredibly raw talent and over a month shy still of turning 20 years old. While the physical tools and the excitement of his large stature and draft hype come with Cossa, this year should serve as a learning experience for the netminder with the incredibly bright future ahead.

Key Losses:

  • Riley Barber: The last month of regular season games was the Berggren/Barber show in Van Andel Arena. Barber and Berggren accounted for over 90% of the offense for the Griffins with either a goal or an assist down the stretch. Barber led the Griffins with 28 goals despite only playing in 48 of their 76 games. Worse off for Grand Rapids, Barber signed a two-way contract with Dallas this summer, meaning he’ll likely bring that goal scoring prowess to the division rival Texas Stars this coming season.
  • Ryan Murphy: Grand Rapids’ number one defenseman and 2020-21’s AHL defenseman of the year departed for the KHL this past season, bringing his 9 years of pro hockey experience with him. Murphy was a steady presence on the blue line for the Griffins, and there was no coincidence that Grand Rapids’ late season slide mirrored Murphy’s season-ending injury during their west coast road trip.
  • Calvin Pickard: The most consistent piece of Grand Rapids’ 2021-22 season was that of their veteran goalie Pickard. Despite facing heavy volumes of shots compared to his counterparts, Pickard still held a 21-16-5 record and gave the Griffins a chance to win in every one of his starts. The 10 year veteran signed a contract with the Edmonton Oilers this offseason and will likely find himself backstopping the Bakersfield Condors in 2022-23.

2022-23 Schedule Breakdown:

The Griffins kick their season off with a bit of a strange matchup, opening up as hosts to the Pacific Division’s San Diego Gulls for a weekend series beginning Friday, October 14th. After their first three games of the season take place at Van Andel Arena, ten of the next thirteen Griffins games take place on the road – a difficult early test to determine the mettle of this team.

While the Griffins see a heavy dose of the usual Central Division suspects, there will also be a healthy mix of opponents outside of their division. The Toronto Marlies and Cleveland Monsters are more of those familiar outside faces that the Griffins saw plenty of last year. New friends outside of San Diego include the Hartford Wolfpack and the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Springfield Thunderbirds. These Atlantic Division teams will have singular home-and-home games with the Griffins, while the Marlies, Gulls, and Monsters have lengthier series of at least four games total.

There will also be plenty of opportunity for revenge against the division’s top dog: after losing 9 out of 10 against the Chicago Wolves last season, the Griffins have another ten games against the reigning league champions to perhaps exact some payback. While the middle of the Grand Rapids schedule is heavy on home games at Van Andel, five of their last six of the season are again on the road. This could be a huge factor in determining playoff position in the division.

Top Storylines for 2022-23:

How Swede It Is: The brightest gazes and uncoincidentally the heaviest hype comes from the Swedish stars of this team: Berggren and Edvinsson. Berggren’s phenomenal rookie season will be looking for an encore to really elevate this team to the next level, while Edvinsson’s development into the next blue line stud to potentially play behind Seider on the parent club in the near future will be followed step-by-step from Detroit’s staff to media pundits. Don’t forget Albert Johannson either: another gifted blue liner with the ability to move the puck in a manner sorely missed last season.

Special Teams: Last season, both Grand Rapids’ powerplay and penalty killing finished in the bottom-five of the AHL. That cannot be acceptable for the team to return to the playoffs. With new faces and new personnel to man each unit, head coach Ben Simon will have different combinations to attack teams with and, hopefully, pull up some of these abysmal numbers into a respectable field to get the team back into playoff contention.

Battle of the Net: Olkinuora’s play in these past Olympics and in European leagues earned him an NHL contract. Brattstrom’s second half of the season earned him the confidence of the coaching staff to be depended on as the guy. Cossa’s potential reaches the sky and beyond. Who will be consistent enough this season to take hold of that starter’s crease?

Prediction Sure to go Right:

The Griffins return to the playoffs. While Milwaukee looks like a force, the juggernaut of the Chicago Wolves has been thoroughly picked apart. Elsewhere, none of the Central Division teams look to pull away from the pack. An infusion of youthful talent and savvy veteran presences should bring postseason games back to Van Andel Arena.

Prediction Sure to go Wrong:

Simon Edvinsson wins AHL rookie of the year. The talent is there and he could easily pull off a repeat performance of what had him win the award in the SHL. The pieces around Edvinsson need to come together for him to have success and, as is always true with this league, the parent club needs to stay healthy to allow the Griffins lineup to stay intact and compete for a top spot in the Central Division with Edvinsson leading the way.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2022 season!

    Andrew Rinaldi covers the Chicago Wolves for The Sin Bin. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @SinBinWolves.

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