Griffins Notebook: Early Observations From Traverse City

The Hockey Writers

Traverse City, Michigan is absolutely buzzing right now, and that can only mean one thing: the Detroit Red Wings have begun their training camp and preseason festivities. While the main focus is deservedly on Alex DeBrincat, J.T. Compher, and the many other new faces that will join the Red Wings this season, there are a ton of other players participating, many of which will begin and spend most of their season in Grand Rapids playing for the Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL).

Training camp has only just begun, but there are already some things worth taking note of, especially regarding how they will affect the Red Wings’ top minor league affiliate. Here are some early notes:

Edvinsson & Johansson Skate with NHL Players

To begin camp, Simon Edvinsson and Albert Johansson were both paired with legitimate NHL defensemen. Edvinsson was paired with Jeff Petry, which Johansson skated alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. Johansson, a second round draft pick of the Red Wings back in 2019, and Edvinsson, the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2021 draft, both skated in their first season in North America last season.

Related: Red Wings’ Takeaways From Traverse City Prospects Tournament

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This is an important development for both the Red Wings and the Griffins because it is an early indication of what Detroit’s depth chart looks like on the blue line. After Edvinsson played in nine games with the Red Wings late last season, it was easy to assume that he is knocking on the NHL’s door to begin training camp. Johansson, however, did not receive a call up last season as he went down with a season-ending injury in early March. That being said, Griffins general manager (GM) Shawn Horcoff revealed at the end of last season that Johansson was on the verge of a call up before his season ended prematurely.

With the addition of prospects William Wallinder and Antti Tuomisto, youth will be served on the Griffins’ blue line this season regardless of where Edvinsson and Johansson begin their season. However, it seems pretty clear that if they fall short of making the NHL roster, Edvinsson and Johansson will each receive a hefty amount of playing time in Grand Rapids while they wait for their opportunity to show their stuff in Detroit.

Cross Hanas Stands Out at Prospect Tournament

Much was made of who didn’t look good while representing the Red Wings at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, but one player that really shined for the hosting team was winger Cross Hanas. The 2020 second round pick was confident and assertive with the puck, and showed great chemistry with his linemates, including Nate Danielson, the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2023 draft.

Cross Hanas Grand Rapids Griffins
Cross Hanas, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Hanas was another player that made his professional debut with the Griffins last season. The 21-year-old had nine goals and 17 points through 30 games last season, but unfortunately battled a pair of injuries that held him out of the majority of the season. Despite a not-so-clean bill of health, he made a solid impression last season and looks like he’s ready to take another step forward this season.

To begin training camp, Hanas skated alongside two players that played more than a handful of games with the Red Wings last season: Austin Czarnik and Elmer Söderblom. Their line features a blend of size, skill, and tenacity that could become a real pain in the neck to play against in the preseason and in the AHL. In fact, this could be an early preview of one of the Griffins’ top two forward lines once the lineup sorts itself out. Most pundits and fans expect that Söderblom will be in the mix for an NHL job as the season rolls along, but Hanas could certainly insert himself into that conversation if his recent play is any indication of what his season is going to look like.

Another Goalie Option!?

When the Red Wings revealed their training camp roster, one thing that stood out was that veteran goaltender Michael Hutchinson would be attending camp on a professional tryout agreement (PTO). With Alex Lyon, Sebastian Cossa and John Lethemon all signed by the Red Wings and Jan Bednář signed to an AHL contract by the Griffins, it was assumed that the crease in Grand Rapids (and Toledo for that matter) was already settled heading into camp. Hutchinson’s presence adds a bit of a wrinkle to that notion.

Michael Hutchinson Columbus Blue Jackets
Michael Hutchinson, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Hutchinson is a 33-year-old veteran of over 200 AHL games and 153 NHL games. He most recently played for the Columbus Blue Jackets after they acquired him in the deal that sent Jonathan Quick to the Vegas Golden Knights. He was a third round pick of the Boston Bruins back in 2008, and backstopped the St. John’s IceCaps to the Calder Cup Final back in 2014. He has been a steady goaltender and a quality pro for over a decade, and would make for a good mentor to the young goaltenders in the Red Wings’ system. While the playoff timeline in Detroit remains fuzzy at best, Horcoff and Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman have made it clear that they expect the Griffins to qualify for the playoffs this season. Adding Hutchinson to the goalie depth chart would certainly help the cause.

It is also important to note that PTOs don’t always end with the player signing a contract, and it is entirely possible this move simply helps the Red Wings ice full groups in training camp and into the preseason. At the end of the day, there is no harm in a PTO: the Red Wings and Griffins’ goaltending situation gets a lot more competitive with Hutchinson (tentatively) in the mix, and Hutchinson has the opportunity to show he is still deserving of an NHL deal, whether it’s from the Red Wings or another team.

Training Camp Continues This Week

The rest of this week looks to include more drills and further preparations for the upcoming preseason. Then, on Sunday, Sept. 24, the annual “Red vs. White” scrimmage will take place, and that is when we might get a better look at some of these prospective lines and combinations. We’re still weeks away from when the games count, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of reasons to tune in over the coming days.

Another offseason is in the books, folks. Hockey is back.

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