It can be hard for Red Wings fans to keep track of their favorite minor league teams. Without games broadcasted on TV, the only ways to watch teams like the Griffins are to shell out a good amount of cash for AHL TV, or to attend the game in person. I went with the latter this past Tuesday, attending my first sports game since the pandemic started (and my first Grand Rapids Griffins game). Here are a few observations about some future Wings players.
After last week’s entry-level contract signing of Donovan Sebrango, I was curious to see what exactly Stevie Y saw in the young defenseman. Drafted just last year in the third round, there had to be something that the organization saw to already get him on a contract.
From my short sample size, Sebrango seems to be a very well rounded defensive player.
He does the little things right. Not afraid to skate straight through center ice, Sebrango’s puck protection is impressive, getting it to the other side of the ice without the need to pass. He also possesses some above average skill in the defensive zone. Winning puck battles, being patient in his own zone, and using his own boards to get the puck to a forward. He did seem reluctant at times to bring the puck very far beyond the blue line. I think the conservative play is part of his game, but if he learns to jump into those small windows that the opposing defenses give him, Sebrango could very well end up on the main roster much faster than expected.
Taro Hirose was one of, if not the best player in a Griffins uniform last night. Although the Griffins only scored one goal against the Rockford IceHogs (47 shots on goal), Hirose seemed to be involved in nearly every play. His creativity seems to be his greatest strength. There were a few different series where creative little backwards passes or slick board passes kept it in the zone just a little longer, and almost got the Griffins on the board. With four shot attempts, he wasn’t afraid to also take the shot when it was open to him. Hirose can score in a few different ways, moving up in the slot slowly to snipe, or using his speed to crash the net and sneak one in. His ability to keep the puck moving on the power play is quite impressive as well. It’s bewildering that Hirose has
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not become a mainstay on the Red Wings roster yet, as his creative offensive skillset would be a great addition to not only 5v5 hockey, but the power play unit as well.
Smith also had a great game against the IceHogs, notching six shots on goal. Smith seemed to will chances out of nothing, capitalizing on small one-on one-victories and turning them into dangerous scoring chances. His play also drove the team. When Smith got heated, the rest of the team followed suit, matching his aggressive forecheck in order to keep constant pressure on the opponents. Again, it’s hard to comprehend why Smith hasn’t found a consistent place on the Red Wings roster. In fact, he plays in a style that Blashill seems to adore – that middle to bottom line forward that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, and seems to win a majority of puck battles. However, keep on eye on Smith after the trade deadline. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the first of the Griffins to be called up.
Different Offensive Philosophies
It was apparent Griffins Head Coach Ben Simon coaches a different style of hockey than Red Wings Coach Jeff Blashill. The forecheck was ridiculously aggressive all night; the players were constantly heading directly into the opponent’s defensive zone to regain control. The dump and chase tactics of Blashill were not as prevalent in the offensive game plan. Players like Sebrango would simply keep the puck in possession when entering the zone, or they would rely on clever passes or puck movement from their forwards to will entry. True, Simon can afford to take more chances with a better roster at the AHL level than Blashill has with Detroit. But it was refreshing to see a more offensive minded attack.
While I didn’t see big games from a couple of the other fan favorite prospects (Dennis Cholowski and Gustav Lindstrom), I came away excited about the future of the Red Wings. While it’s obvious Detroit doesn’t have the elite talent teams need to win the Cup, there seems to be a promising young core developing, with some solid middle to bottom six forwards in the pipeline.
Keep an eye on roster moves after the trade deadline. We could finally see guys like Hirose and Smith make their way to the main roster – and stay for the remainder of the season.