The Detroit Red Wings find themselves in an uncustomary position being last in the Atlantic Division.
But for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, it is business as usual. Even amid uncertainty in Detroit, the Griffins continue to pile up points and position themselves as a strong Calder Cup contender.
For years the Griffins have been a dependable source of high-end talent for the Red Wings, having sent goaltenders Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard to Detroit along with defensemen Niklas Kronwall, Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, and Brendan Smith. Red Wings forwards Justin Abdelkader, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, and Tomas Tatar became established NHL names after spending time in Grand Rapids.
More recently, goaltender Jared Coreau, defensemen Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul, along with forwards Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin, and Anthony Mantha, are among the younger names that learned the pro game in Grand Rapids.
Mantha started this season with Grand Rapids by scoring eight goals in 10 games before heading to Detroit. His 11 goals tie him with Larkin for the Red Wings lead.
But along with continuous player development, the Griffins have also produced wins. They have reached the Calder Cup Playoffs in each of the past four seasons and won the Calder Cup in 2013.
This season it is more of the same for the Griffins even as the Red Wings have leaned on them heavily for roster reinforcements. With Howard injured, Coreau is in Detroit, as is defenseman Nick Jensen. Forward Tyler Bertuzzi has also spent time with the Red Wings. Grand Rapids has used eight rookies this season.
But the Griffins (22-9-1-2) lead the Central Division. Their .691 point percentage leads the Western Conference and is third-best in the AHL. A 13-3-1-2 run in their past 19 games has pushed them through the west in the first half of the season; their start through 34 games is the third-best in their history.
Their 3.44 goals per game is sixth-best in the AHL and they are second-best in the league defensively with 2.47 goals allowed per game. Helping to power the Griffins has been a deadly power play that leads the league at 27.7 percent. Grand Rapids has at least one power-play goal in 22 of its past 25 games.
There could be more talent on the way to Detroit in the future.
Tomas Nosek, an undrafted forward out of the Czech Republic, is in his third season with the Griffins. After scoring 26 goals in his first 125 AHL games, he has 12 goals in 24 games this season.
Detroit selected forward Evgeny Svechnikov with the No. 19 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and he has delivered as an AHL rookie with eight goals in 34 games. Forward Matt Lorito is 26-years-old, but he is in his second full pro season and leads the Griffins with 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists) in 32 games.
Defenseman Robbie Russo continues his progression after leading the Griffins in scoring among defensemen as a rookie last season, when he was named to the AHL's all-rookie and second all-star team. He has 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in 34 games this season. Joining Russo has been another undrafted find in defenseman Joe Hicketts, who has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 31 games as a rookie.
The big question for the Griffins is whether they can maintain their pace in the second half with Coreau still in the NHL and possibly more roster upheaval depending on whether Detroit can make a push toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The road through the Western Conference will not be easy for the Griffins. The Chicago Wolves and Milwaukee Admirals each are in pursuit, and the defending Calder Cup champion Cleveland Monsters have heated up after a slow start.
San Diego received help Wednesday when the Anaheim Ducks acquired veteran goaltender Jhonas Enroth in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs for a seventh-round selection in the 2018 draft and assigned him to the Gulls.
Enroth provides Anaheim with a proven recall option and San Diego with needed goaltending experience with Matt Hackett out for the season after torn labrum surgery on Dec. 2 and Dustin Tokarski sidelined with a lower-body injury since Dec. 26.
Enroth, 28, was 0-3-1 with a 3.94 goals-against average and .872 save percentage in six games with the Maple Leafs this season. He also was 2-1-0 with a 3.03 GAA and .904 save percentage with the Toronto Marlies. He has played 153 NHL games.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenseman David Warsofsky won the CCM/AHL Player of the Week award for the period ending last Sunday. He had seven points (two goals, five assists) in four games. The Pittsburgh Penguins recalled Warsofsky on Wednesday.
Chicago forward Kenny Agostino leads the AHL scoring with 50 points (15 goals, 35 assists). … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Jake Guentzel has 19 goals to lead the AHL and his 38 points lead all rookies. … Goaltender Zane McIntyre is with the Boston Bruins, but his 1.41 GAA and .951 save percentage with Providence lead the AHL. … Lehigh Valley leads the league with 3.59 goals per game while Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has allowed the fewest goals per game (2.34).
WHO'S HOT, WHO'S NOT
Chicago forward Ivan Barbashev has a six-game goal streak. … The Wolves ended an eight-game winning streak with a 6-3 loss at the Rockford IceHogs on Sunday. The winning streak tied the longest in the league this season. … Ontario has a seven-game point streak (6-0-1-0).
ON THE MOVE
Cleveland is without its top two goaltenders with the recalls of Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo to the Columbus Blue Jackets. … With McIntyre in the NHL, Providence has veteran goaltender Anton Khudobin on assignment from Boston. … The Stockton Heat have signed defenseman Keith Aulie to a contract after he was on a tryout agreement. He has played 167 NHL games. … The Bakersfield Condors have added forward Jesse Puljujarvi from the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton selected him with the No. 4 pick in the 2016 draft and he had eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 28 games as a rookie. Forward Anton Slepyshev was recalled to Edmonton. … Rockford signed veteran goaltender Jeff Glass.