The American Hockey League (AHL) is a developmental league. Everyone – from the team presidents to the fans to the players themselves – knows it. It’s why fans and media pundits alike are always looking for the next AHL player that is ready to make the jump to the NHL.
The Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, are no exception to this. Since Steve Yzerman took over as general manager (GM) of the Red Wings back in 2019, he and his scouting team have done well to stock the cupboards full of exciting prospects with various levels of potential. That wave of youth has really begun to come to the forefront this season in Grand Rapids, especially after the Red Wings brought in more than a handful of veterans to fill out their roster and keep the kids down in the AHL.
But the best kids can’t be kept down for too long. Sooner or later, they force the issue and make their way onto the NHL roster. These are three Griffins that are looking to do just that.
(D) Simon Edvinsson
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. The Red Wings’ top pick in the 2021 draft has already seen action in two NHL games this season (along with nine games last season) and his play in the AHL suggests that the towering defender is ready for more.
Simon Edvinsson is pacing the Griffins’ defense in terms of offensive play. He currently sits at 18 points through 27 games and is a plus-2 despite playing big minutes for what has been a defensively inconsistent Griffins team. His size is well-documented, and his willingness to attack with and without the puck on his stick is what fuels his game. He endures the occasional defensive lapse like most 20-year-old defenders, but his upside is undeniable. There have been plenty of times this season where he looks a cut above everyone else on the ice, a good indication that a player is ready to play at a higher level.
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Edvinsson seems to be eighth on the Red Wings’ defensive depth chart as he was called up as soon as there was an opening on the NHL blue line. However, given his play and experience at the AHL level, it is curious that the Red Wings aren’t finding ways to incorporate their top prospect into their lineup more. He is obviously still very young, but is it outlandish to suggest that Detroit is starting to let him “overripen” like they did with many of their prospects long ago?
(D) Albert Johansson
Albert Johansson has been on the radar for most Red Wings fans for a while now. The 2019-draftee impressed over in Sweden during the pandemic-affected seasons, and that impressive play carried over to last season with the Griffins, his first in North America. Griffins GM Shawn Horcoff revealed that, prior to the season-ending injury Johansson endured, the 23-year-old defenseman was on the cusp of making his NHL debut.
Johansson does not possess the same level of upside that Edvinsson does, but he plays a mature, two-way game that should translate to the NHL fairly seamlessly. Though he started the 2023-24 season off slowly for his standards – likely due to the extended time away from the game due to his injury – he seems to have returned to the level he was at midway through last season. He is knocking on the door again and, at 23 years of age, he is at a point in his young career where opportunities will be available to him elsewhere if the Red Wings are unwilling to give him a look in Detroit.
The Red Wings’ defensive struggles this season are well-documented, and one player isn’t going to fix that. Johansson would offer a different look for the Red Wings. He can be eased into the lineup, and that would allow the decision-makers in Detroit to get a better idea of whether or not they have a player here.
(W) Jonatan Berggren
It feels like a decision is coming on Jonatan Berggren’s future with the Red Wings.
After setting the Griffins’ rookie scoring record during the 2021-22 season, Berggren played 67 games in the NHL last season; he has featured in just nine games with the Red Wings this season. The 23-year-old is a point-per-game player in the AHL this season and is clearly the most NHL-ready forward “prospect” – if you can call him that anymore – the Red Wings have.
But with the depth of forwards ahead of Berggren in Detroit, the Red Wings may consider moving on from the young winger and include him in a trade package for help on the blue line or in the crease. That isn’t the only path forward, but a move will have to be made, one way or another, to provide him with an opportunity to play in the NHL on a consistent basis.
New Year Brings Playoffs, Trade Deadline Into Focus
The Red Wings have been forthright about trying to push for the playoffs this season. It’s the reason for all the veteran additions in the summer (including Patrick Kane joining the team in November), and it’s why they’ve allowed their top prospects to play in the AHL. Players like Edvinsson, Johansson and Berggren are in Grand Rapids to help the playoff push at the AHL level, though the team’s 12-13-4 record doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence right now.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how the Red Wings approach the trade deadline. Do they spend future assets to further augment their roster, do they stay put, or do they sell off some of their veterans, making room for younger players in the process? How does the Griffins’ playoff picture effect their approach?
The three players listed here are ready to play for an NHL team. It’s up to the Red Wings to decide whether they are going to be that team.