Griffins Notebook: Kasper, Mazur, Danielson & More

The Hockey Writers

The Grand Rapids Griffins hold a 1-0 series lead in their second round best-of-five series against the Milwaukee Admirals. With games three and four set to be played in Grand Rapids, the Griffins are well positioned to move on to the conference finals, so long as they take care of business at home. Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that the Griffins seem to be getting better and better thanks in large part to the team’s youngest players.

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

In this edition of “Griffins Notebook”, two Detroit Red Wings prospects are shining particularly bright for the Griffins right now. Also, the Red Wings’ first pick of the 2023 draft has joined the Griffins and may be a difference-maker right away. Finally, the hockey world has been denied a matchup between two of the best goalie prospects in the world. Read on for more….

Kasper & Mazur Built for Playoff Hockey 

At any level of professional hockey, the cream generally rises to the top at playoff time. It only makes sense, though, as the playoffs are when goals are at a premium, physicality is cranked up, and every mistake is amplified to the scale of the moment. 

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That is why it is so encouraging to see Marco Kasper and Carter Mazur making such a big impact for the Griffins through five playoff games. To this point in their playoff journey, both players are tied for second in points (five), and they both have found ways to make an impact outside of producing offense.

Kasper is coming into his own as a center in the AHL, playing big minutes and winning big faceoffs to initiate and maintain possession for the Griffins. He finds his way to the dirty areas and produces chances from the high-danger zones of the ice as well. He may not be old enough to order a drink in the U.S., but he plays a man’s game and makes a noticeable impact almost every time he is on the ice.

Mazur has long been a favorite among media and fans that follow along with the Red Wings’ prospects pool. Given his scrappy play style, it should be no surprise that he is excelling at the time of year where the games are intense and frustrating your opponent can go a long way towards securing victory in the series. What stands out the most in his game is how decisive he is with the puck. He reads the play well and moves the puck just as proficiently. Sometimes younger players can freeze up in the pressure cooker that is the playoffs, but the best parts of his game are revealing themselves instead. There’s a reason he has ranked so highly in our Red Wings prospect rankings over the last year or so.

Both Kasper and Mazur combine skill with a certain ruggedness, and that should allow both of them to push hard for an NHL roster spot in the fall. But he won’t be the only one pushing for a spot with the Red Wings.

Danielson Joins the Griffins

A unique thing about the AHL playoffs is that teams will randomly receive reinforcements seemingly out of nowhere. If an NHL team’s playoff run ends before their AHL club, eligible players will be sent down to play more hockey and continue to play for a championship. Or, like in this instance, players will leave their junior clubs to join the AHL playoffs.

The Griffins have already received a boost from new faces such as Emmett Finnie and Shai Buium, but the latest player to join the group is Nate Danielson, the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2023 draft (ninth overall). The team announced it Saturday afternoon, just a couple days before Game 2 against the Admirals. 

Danielson’s arrival comes with a ton of excitement. He was a standout in the Western Hockey League that last two seasons due in part to his playmaking and two-way abilities. In his draft year, some drew comparisons to Red Wings center and captain Dylan Larkin, another player who made his first (and only) appearance with the Griffins in the playoffs. If Grand Rapids can add a “Larkin Lite” for their playoff push, that would bode well for their chances. 

Nate Danielson Detroit Red Wings
Nate Danielson, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This also brings into focus one of the more interesting intricacies of the AHL playoffs. As a developmental league, the most important thing any AHL team can do is provide young players with an opportunity to play and develop – bonus points if that opportunity comes during the playoffs. However, every athlete and every coach wants to win regardless of whether that’s the main objective or not. 

All of that is to say that it will be interesting to see how Danielson factors into head coach Dan Watson’s lineup. The Griffins have found their groove at the right time, so the coaching staff won’t want to mess with chemistry and continuity too much. That is not to say that he won’t play – I would be quite surprised if he didn’t – but his initial role and linemates will be something to keep an eye on as the Griffins coaching staff try to find playing time for everyone that needs it while also maintaining focus on a Calder Cup championship.

No Cossa vs. Askarov?

One of the biggest storylines anytime the Griffins and Admirals played this season was the matchup between Sebastian Cossa and Yaroslav Askarov, two of the top goalie prospects in the world. While both of them project to play playoff games in the NHL within the next few years, they are not up against each other in this AHL playoff series.

Troy Grosenick got the start in Game 1 for Milwaukee after he helped stabilize the team’s crease and reverse the Admirals’ fortunes in their opening round series against the Texas Stars. The 34-year-old has basically served in the same role as Griffins goaltender Michael Hutchinson this season: the veteran mentor that supports their younger counterpart and can be relied on if they have to take on the brunt of the load. 

In a season that has sort of been a revenge tour for Cossa, it is a little disappointing to not see Askarov at the other end of the ice, especially in a series that will decide who wears the Central Division crown this season. At the end of the day, however, I’m sure Cossa doesn’t care who is protecting the other net – just as long as his team is the one that secures victory.

Round 2 Schedule

The Griffins will resume their series with the Admirals on Monday night in Milwaukee. Games three and four (if necessary) will be played Wednesday and Friday night (7 P.M. ET) in Grand Rapids. If necessary, the teams will return to Milwaukee for Game 5 Sunday evening (5 PM ET).

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