The Grand Rapids Griffins are set to open their regular season Friday, October 5 when they travel to Texas to take on the Stars followed by a Saturday evening meeting with the San Antonio Rampage.
Ben Simon begins his first season behind the bench as the Head Coach of the Griffins. Simon served as an assistant to former Head Coach Todd Nelson, who left to join the Dallas Stars as an assistant coach. Coaches that will be assisting Simon are Matt MacDonald, Brad Tapper, Mike Knuble, Brian Mahoney-Wilson, and Bill Leroy.
Gone are last years leading goal scorer Eric Tangradi, Ben Street, Matt Lorito, Jared Coreau, Dan Renouf, Tom McCollum, and other players who contributed to the Griffins playoff push. Many of these players left to pursue an opportunity to play at the NHL level.
Thanks to injuries to the Detroit Red Wings, there will be many questions about the Griffins blue line, at least for the first part of the season. Libor Sulak, Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts, and Filip Hronek are all going to be up with the Red Wings to begin the season. The Griffins could get back one or two of these players on recall once the Detroit defense returns to full health. Back are Dylan McIlrath and Vili Saarijarvi. McIlrath is expected to play like the big physical defenseman that he is. Saarijarvi had a solid camp with Detroit and is probably another year away from getting serious look at making the big club. But with injuries, and possibly some trades, don’t be surprised if he is called up at least once this year. Brian Lashoff is back again for his 10th season as a part of the Detroit organization. He will begin the season sidelined due to injury. Lashoff is expected to be the leader of the blue line.
The Griffins will have many new faces on defense. Trevor Hamilton enters his first full season as a pro. He was a member of the Penn State hockey team and was the B1G defenseman of the year last season. He made his pro debut last season with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. Mackenze Stewart signed a PTO contract with the Detroit Red Wings and turned some heads at camp. The Griffins like his size and signed him to a PTO. He has played in six career AHL contests with the Utica Comets. Marcus Crawford will enter his first season as a pro after signing a two year contract in April. Crawford collected 53 points in his final OHL season (13-40-53) for the Saginaw Spirit. Jake Chelios, son of former Red Wings Chris Chelios, will begin his first season in the Detroit organization. Chelios is an AHL vet, playing for the Charlotte Checkers over the previous three seasons. Matt Finn, recently signed to a PTO, will make his Griffins debut as well. Finn enters his fifth year as a pro playing for the Checkers, Toronto Marlies, and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Even losing players like Eric Tangradi, Ben Street, and Matt Lorito, this seasons group of forwards may be one of the most talented groups the Griffins have had in recent memory. There will be many new faces and some familiar faces as well.
Axel Holmstrom returns for his third season with the Griffins. He scored 26 points last season (7-19-26). The highly touted Filip Zadina will make his professional debut with the Griffins. The #6 overall pick from the 2018 NHL Draft was thought to make the Red Wings out of camp. But it was decided that the 18 year-old needed a little bit of seasoning in the AHL. Zadina should provide an offensive spark with his skill and his speed. David Pope, thought of as somewhat of a late bloomer, is making his pro debut this season. Pope was drafted by the Wings in 2013 but spent the last four years playing collegiate hockey for Nebraska-Omaha. Turner Elson returns for his second season with the Griffins. Elson was a bit limited last season with injuries but continues to be a scoring threat. Carter Camper was acquired via trade during the off season. Camper is prolific points scorer collecting a career high 61 points (16-45-61) last season for the Tuscon Roadrunners and Cleveland Monsters. Wade Megan will enter his first season as a member of the Griffins. The team is counting on Megan to regain the scoring touch he had when he lead the AHL in goal scoring with 33 during the 2016-2017 regular season. Dominic Turgeon is back for his third season. Turgeon had a solid camp and was close to making the Red Wings roster. He is most know for being an excellent penalty killer but had a solid offensive season last year collecting 32 points (14-18-32). Another prolific AHL goal and points scorer will be joining the Griffins in Chris Terry. Terry led the AHL in scoring last season with 71 points (32-39-71) as a member of the Laval Rocket. Colin Campbell is back for his sixth season with the Griffins. Campbell is about as solid as they come on the penalty kill and can provide a spark when needed. Trevor Yates enters his first full season as a pro. He played in two games for the Griffins last season collecting an assist. Many people are excited about the arrival of rookie Givani Smith. Smith did appear in three games for Grand Rapids during the 2016-2017 season. Smith is a tenacious player who loves to cause problems for the opposing teams. He can also provide an offensive punch. Matthew Ford returns as the Captain of the Griffins and his third season with the team. Ford had a very solid offensive year last season scoring 38 points (22-16-38). Dominik Shine is back for his third season as a Griffin. Shine is a solid fourth line forward who may find himself battling for playing time with all of the other young forwards. Matt Puempel returns for his second season with Grand Rapids after he was acquired in the Ryan Sproul trade. Puempel is a solid goal scorer and should help the Griffins offense again this season.
The goalie situation is going to look completely different for the Griffins this season. Gone are Jared Coreau and Tom McCollum.
Harri Sateri enters his 11th season as a pro and his first season with the Griffins. Sateri spent time with the Springfield Thunderbirds going 14-9-3. He ranked sixth in the AHL in GAA with 2.3 and third in save percentage at .927. He made his NHL debut last season for the Florida Panthers going 4-4 in nine appearances.
Patrik Rybar comes to the Griffins from the Czech league. Rybar had a good year in 2017-2018 going 23-13 with a 1.73 GAA. Rybar is expected to serve as the back up to Sateri.
2018-2019 Season outlook-
There were many questions heading into the off season with expiring contracts and many young players on the rise ready to make their way into the pro ranks. Thanks to some solid off season acquisitions, the Griffins appear to be ready to make a shot at a Central Division Championship and a deep playoff run.