Griffins Notebook: Top Line, Potential Additions & More

The Hockey Writers

The Grand Rapids Griffins are playoff bound for the first time in five years. With the end of their season just under a week away, the Griffins are *five* points away from clinching home ice in their opening matchup, which will be against the Rockford IceHogs, the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Things are looking good for the Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate. Not only are the Griffins close to clinching second place in the AHL’s Central Division, but they have continued to roll even while key players such as Simon Edvinsson and Austin Czarnik have spent time in Detroit following the NHL’s trade deadline. This speaks to the depth of the Griffins’ roster, and it also speaks to the coaching staff, led by first-year head coach Dan Watson, and their ability to gameplan accordingly. Even at the AHL level, the playoffs are a war of attrition, and the Griffins’ success may very well be tied to how well they can adapt to who they are playing and what players they have available to them.

Grand Rapids Griffins Notebook
Grand Rapids Griffins Notebook (The Hockey Writers)

With the playoffs just around the corner, the Griffins’ lineup has come together in recent weeks and has fluctuated very little. That being said, there will still be some changes once the season ends – and we may even get a quick look at players that will play a role for the team starting next season.

Red Wings Top Prospects Headline Griffins’ Top Line

After much experimentation, Watson seems to have found a top line he can roll into the playoffs with.

The trio of Marco Kasper, Jonatan Berggren and Carter Mazur have played top line minutes for Watson since the trade deadline and they seem to have found some healthy chemistry together. In the order of Berggren, Mazur and Kasper, they are the Griffins’ top-three point-getters this season (Kasper’s 35 points are tied for third with Taro Hirose.)

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Since March 1:

  • Mazur has four goals and 12 points. He went without a shot just twice in that timeframe. He has also learned to harness his chippy style without taking unnecessary penalties.
  • Kasper has really come to life in the second half of the season. Since March, he has five goals and 11 points. His tenacity and compete level is always on display, and there’s a strong argument to be made that he is the Red Wings’ most NHL-ready prospect among forwards.
  • Berggren continues to dominate. He is the Griffins’ only player with above a point per-game average (he has 54 points in 50 games this season), but since March, he has seven goals and 12 points in just 10 games. This may be beating a dead horse, but he has nothing left to prove in the AHL and will undoubtedly be in the NHL next season, whether it’s with Detroit or another team.

Perhaps the biggest reason this line is so exciting is the implications it has on the Red Wings’ future. Kasper and Mazur are two of their top-five prospects, and Berggren is widely considered to be their best player not currently on the roster. In fact, their line could be directly transported to Detroit next season under the right circumstances. Even if they don’t make the jump together, expect all three to push for NHL jobs when training camp starts up.

As for right now, the Griffins should continue to reap the benefits of having a top line that has a nice mix of skill, grit, and experience playing in high-pressure situations.

A Glimpse of the Future Coming to Grand Rapids?

Now that the NCAA’s Frozen Four tournament has concluded, the annual ritual of drafted college athletes deciding whether or not to sign entry-level contracts (ELC) begins. Things have been quiet on that front for the Red Wings/Griffins so far, but one specific player is one to watch in the coming days.

In the aftermath of the University of Denver’s second championship in the last three years, two members of the team received a lot of attention: Zeev and Shai Buium. While Zeev is a top prospect in this year’s draft, Shai is a Red Wings prospect, selected 36th overall back in 2021. Both brothers recorded an assist in the championship game against Boston College, and now the elder Buium brother has a decision to make after securing his second NCAA championship with the Pioneers.

Buium, whose role with the Pioneers steadily increased over his three seasons with the program, is positioned to take the next step and sign an ELC with the Red Wings. Though the contract wouldn’t begin until next season, it would almost certainly be paired with a professional tryout agreement with the Griffins, similar what goaltender Carter Gylander signed at the conclusion of his collegiate season.

In 43 games with the Denver Pioneers this season, Buium was a plus-33, and reached career milestones in several categories. With 36 points this season, he currently has 75 points through 120 games across three seasons. He is a two-way defenseman with good size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) that likes to be involved with the offense. His ceiling may not be as high as his brother’s, but his steady development at the collegiate level shows promise of a defender that could make an impact at the NHL level within a couple years.

It is not a guarantee that Buium will sign his ELC; it is possible that one more year at Denver would appeal to him on a personal and professional level, and the Red Wings’ front office may agree depending on what they project the Griffins’ blue line will look like next season. However, things could start to get uncomfortable next Spring if the two sides aren’t aligned on their desire to get a deal done and when to do it.

More….

  • These numbers are nice:
  • The importance of securing home ice advantage in the opening round is significant for the Griffins. Their record at home: 22-7-6. Their record on the road: 13-15-6. Their final three games are against the Iowa Wild (April 17 and 19) and the Milwaukee Admirals (April 21). The Wild are at the bottom of the Central Division while the Admirals clinched the top spot in the division a while ago. Needless to say, the Griffins need all four points out of two winnable games against the Wild.
  • You’ve got to feel for Red Wings goaltender Ville Husso. The 29-year-old, assigned to Grand Rapids on a conditioning stint, was set to start his second game for the Griffins this season before he tweaked something during warmups. That likely does it for him this season after playing just 20 games (19 in Detroit and one with the Griffins earlier this year.)

The end of the AHL season is just under a week away. Stay tuned as the Griffins wrap up their season and begin their quest for the Calder Cup!


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