The next Andreas Lilja? That’s not likely to create a buzz in Hockeytown, but the Red Wings are quietly hoping to groom exactly that in Belarusian blueliner Sergei Kolosov, a rookie with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
“He’s really opened our eyes,” said Griffins general manager Bob McNamara. “He’s a really, really steady player who just makes the simple play, always seems to make the correct play, and doesn’t get himself into problems. There’s not a lot of flash to him. His game is a lot like Andreas Lilja’s.”
At this time last year, the Red Wings weren’t even sure if there was any point in signing the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder. Kolosov was drafted 151st overall in 2004, then spent two seasons in the United States Hockey League with Cedar Rapids and two more in the top professional league in Belarus.
He hadn’t done much to separate himself until the IIHF world hockey championship in Quebec City last May. That’s when soon-to-be Griffins head coach Curt Fraser stepped behind the Belarusian bench and handed Kolosov 15 minutes a night. Fraser was impressed with Kolosov’s play against top NHL forwards, and a month later, Kolosov signed a two-year contract with the Red Wings.
The 22-year-old gained a reputation as a mean-spirited hit machine at lower levels, making highlight reels at the 2005 world junior with a punishing check on future NHLer Dan Fritsche. But at higher levels, he’s adjusted his game, fitting into the Lilja-mold by getting in the way more than laying big hits.
He has four goals and six assists and is a plus-1 in 51 games and has played well paired with fellow rookie Logan Pyett. For a player with a reputation for being unpolished, Kolosov isn’t making many mistakes.
“He’s been fine with the puck and he keeps it simple,” McNamara said. “He plays within himself. He doesn’t try to do anything crazy like beat three guys at once. He’s just a steady, steady player and he’s really surprised us.”
* Defenseman Brendan Smith (Wisconsin, NCAA) returned from a wrist injury on the weekend. He had been out since Jan. 3.
* Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock has already said Darren Helm will be in the lineup in the NHL playoffs, just as he was last year. Babcock also hinted that Ville Leino has a playoff spot within his grasp, too. Both forwards have excelled after being called up from Grand Rapids late last month.
* With Helm and Leino likely to stay in the NHL, forwards such as Evan McGrath, Mattias Ritola, Justin Abdelkader and Cory Emmerton will be given added responsibilities in Grand Rapids during the stretch run, and that’s a good thing. All four are having excellent seasons already.
* Goalie Jimmy Howard (Grand Rapids, AHL) earned a one-game NHL call-up and turned aside 24 of 28 shots in a loss to Minnesota. He was subsequently returned to Grand Rapids. He has appeared in nine career NHL games.