Griffins Notebook: End of Season, 2024-25 Outlook & More

The Hockey Writers

There will not be a Calder Cup parade in Grand Rapids this summer.

The Grand Rapids Griffins concluded their season and second round series Sunday evening against the Milwaukee Admirals. Despite winning the opening game of the best-of-five series, the Griffins were unable to win two out of the next four games, including Game 3 on home ice. The Admirals are now set to face the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the Western Conference Final while the Griffins begin preparations for the offseason.

In this edition of our Griffins Notebook series, we’re looking at takeaways from the season, who could and/or should return next season, and any other loose thoughts that have been lingering since the end of the season. For the last time of the 2023-24 season, let’s empty the notebook.

Griffins’ 2023-24 Season: In Memoriam

No matter how you slice it, the Griffins had their best season in several years. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2019 and won their first playoff series since their Calder Cup championship back in 2017. Though it took them some time find their footing under first-year head coach Dan Watson, the Griffins were one of the hottest teams in the American Hockey League (AHL) once the new year was underway.

Compared to the 2022-23 season, the Griffins won nine more games and saw a 22-point improvement in the standings. After finishing dead last in the Central Division in 2022-23, they finished second this season. They had a plus-6 goal differential (208 goals-for and 202 goals-against), a vast improvement over the team’s minus-61 goal differential last season (194 GF, 255 GA). The team’s vast defensive improvement largely stemmed from development on the blue line as well as stability in goal.

The Griffins’ goaltending duo of Sebastian Cossa and Michael Hutchinson both had spurts of being the team’s top option. However, it was Cossa, the 15th pick of the 2021 draft, that ascended at the right time and secured the team’s starting role down the stretch and into the playoffs. Together, they led the Griffins to an overall save-percentage (SV%) of .904. Cossa is the first rookie goaltender to win a playoff series with the Griffins since Petr Mrazek back in 2013.

2023-24 saw the debut of several new faces, most at the start of the season and then a few others as the season progressed. Carter Mazur, Amadeus Lombardi, Marco Kasper, William Wallinder and Antti Tuomisto all made their AHL debuts right from the get-go, and each of them had moments to remember throughout the season. Sprinkle in appearances from Emmitt Finnie, Shai Buium, Alex Doucet, and Nate Danielson, and you’ve got the most prospect-laden roster the Griffins have had since the 2019-20 season – the beginning of Steve Yzerman’s tenure as general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, the Griffins’ parent club.

This season will ultimately be lost in time. There will be no banner hanging from the rafters of Van Andel Arena commemorating this season, and the only player to set any sort of franchise record was Cossa. But with the Griffins ending their playoff drought and the Red Wings finishing just short of doing the same in the NHL, this is a season that fans should be happy with today. A few years from now, we may look back on this season as the first real stepping stone towards bringing championships back to Detroit and Grand Rapids. t

Who Will Be Griffins in 2024-25?

Turnover is a thing across all levels of professional sports. In the AHL, turnover is often from two places: veterans that leave for a new opportunity, and prospects that graduate to the next level. With the Griffins’ season now over, it’s time to assess which key players could and should return for next season.

Not coming back: Simon Edvinsson, Jonatan Berggren, Albert Johansson

You can rarely say for sure if a young player or prospect is going to make the leap to the NHL, but in the case of these three players, it’s a pretty safe bet.

After leading the Griffins with 56 points in 53 games this season (127 points through 130 AHL games in total), as well as appearing in 79 games in the NHL, Berggren has proven that he has nothing left to prove in the AHL. The Swedish winger, who turns 24 in July, is no longer waiver exempt starting next season. Though he has struggled to maintain a consistent spot in the Red Wings’ lineup to this point in his career, it feels like he will be playing in the NHL next season, one way or another. Expect to hear a lot of speculation about Berggren’s future with the Red Wings throughout this offseason, at least until the Red Wings re-sign him (he’s a restricted free agent this summer) or they trade him.

Like Berggren, Johansson is also about to lose his waiver exemption. The Swedish defenseman, a second round selection in the 2019 draft, improved his two-way game this season as well as his overall physical abilities. He often played top pairing minutes with the Griffins this season and should push for consistent minutes on Detroit’s blue line next season – after he is signed to a new deal as well.

Edvinsson is as NHL-ready a player as there is in the AHL. It would be a huge surprise (and disappointment) if he begins the 2024-25 campaign in Grand Rapids rather than Detroit.

Likely coming back: Sebastian Cossa, Amadeus Lombardi, Tim Gettinger, Cross Hanas, Elmer Söderblom, Antti Tuomisto, William Wallinder, Brogan Rafferty, Josiah Didier, Shai Buium, Eemil Viro

All of these players played a big role for the Griffins this season and, for one reason or another, project to potentially play an even bigger role in Grand Rapids next season.

Cossa is probably the most notable name here given his status as the Griffins’ starting goaltender. The 21-year-old still holds the title of the Red Wings’ “goalie of the future” after addressing some concerns about his overall potential this season. After playing in a “1A/1B” tandem with Hutchinson this season, I expect that he will take on a more clear-cut starting role for the Griffins next season; after appearing in 40 games this season, the goal for Cossa should be to start 50 or more games next season. Barring any additions in the offseason, he would sit third on the Red Wings’ depth chart in goal next season.

Söderblom is another notable name here given that a year and a half ago he looked like he could have been an NHL regular by now. The giant winger struggled with consistency this season and wasn’t always able to put his towering frame to good use on the ice. With shifty hands and dominating size, he is still a bit of unicorn among NHL prospects, but he hasn’t done enough to this point to suggest that he’ll play his home games anywhere other than Grand Rapids next season.

Finally, William Wallinder currently stands to receive a massive opportunity next season. With Edvinsson and Johansson more than likely moving on to the NHL, Wallinder should inherit some of their playing time. With more playing time comes more responsibility, and the 32nd pick of the 2020 draft has shown flashes of being able to rise to that challenge. Though he was drafted due to his physical tools and raw potential, he has slowly developed a pro-style game that should allow him to make an impact all over the ice, with and without the puck. If you’re looking for an early breakout candidate for next season, it’s Wallinder.

Players to watch in the Fall: Marco Kasper, Carter Mazur, Nate Danielson

All three of these players have a shot at “earning their wings” and joining the Red Wings next season.

  • Danielson, the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2023 draft, was one of the team’s final cuts before the start of the season. He led the Portland Winterhawks in scoring (7 goals, 24 points in 18 games) as they finished just short of a Western Hockey League (WHL) championship.
  • Mazur finished second in points in both the regular season and the playoffs, with Berggren being the only player to outproduce him. The native of Jackson, Michigan would provide the kind of “scrappy skill” the Red Wings lacked last season.

  • Kasper, Detroit’s top pick in the 2022 draft, experienced a quick preview of life in the NHL late in the 2022-23 season. Once he found his game in the second half of the AHL season, he became a consistent force for the Griffins; he led the team in plus/minus (plus-9) and failed to register a shot on goal in just nine games, season and playoffs combined.

With Edvinsson, Johansson and Berggren all set to make the jump to the NHL on a full-time basis next season, it is highly unlikely that there will be enough openings for all three of these forwards to join the Red Wings – at least at the start of the season. One, maybe two of them could earn a spot out of training camp, but there’s a decent chance that all three spend time in both Detroit and Grand Rapids throughout the season.

The Red Wings/Griffins’ front office will certainly add and/or re-sign some AHL veterans to fill out the rest of the roster – and maybe even add a surprise or two – but the core of an AHL contender is there, especially if the Griffins can count on continued growth from some of their key young players. There will be plenty of interest in how their lineup takes shape at the start of next season.

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  • Söderblom stands out as a disappointment this season, but you can add Hanas to the list as well. After posting 17 points in 30 games as an AHL rookie last season, the Texas native struggled not only to produce, but to stay in the lineup as well. He had just 16 points in 58 games, and that includes a long stretch alongside Kasper early on in the season. Overall, it seemed like some of his edges got dulled down and he became more “vanilla” as a result. He has more to give, but he probably needs to prove it next season.
Cross Hanas Grand Rapids Griffins
Cross Hanas, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)
  • The question of who the Griffins’ other goaltender will be is an interesting one. Hutchinson could return if he’s satisfied with the role he would play, but there are also a pair of younger options that could factor in. 22-year-old Carter Gylander went pro late last season after four seasons at Colgate University. A seventh round pick in the 2019 draft, he set the program record for most saves in a single season during his Junior season. Also in the mix is Jan Bednář, a Czechian goaltender the Red Wings drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. He won 22 of his 36 appearances with the Toledo Walleye (ECHL) this season and won four of his five appearances in the playoffs, and posted a 2.37 goals-against average and a SV% of .917.
  • Danielson featured in games two and three of the Griffins’ second round series against the Admirals. He did not record a point and was a minus-1, but he didn’t necessarily look out of place in what were his first official professional games. The second round of the playoffs isn’t the easiest time for a new face – especially a 19-year-old – to acclimate to their team, and I think that’s essentially what happened here. Throw in the fact that he was coming off of a long run in the WHL playoffs and he was probably always going to get off to a slow start. Had the Griffins won the series, it would have been interesting to see if and when he rejoined the lineup.
  • One pending free agent of interest is Taro Hirose, the soon-to-be 28-year-old winger that just finished up his fifth season with the Griffins. The Michigan State product has routinely been one of the Griffins’ top players in terms of points per-game since he joined the organization; he has 50 goals and 201 points across 248 games. However, he had just two points in eight playoff games, and it is possible that he is interested in a fresh start with a new organization given that he has hit his ceiling with this one.

That’s it for the 2023-24 season. Until the next time the notebook fills up, thanks for following along!

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