The kids are getting it done for the Grand Rapids Griffins.
With 24 points still up for grabs, the Griffins are 38-18-6-6 with 88 points, fifth in the 29-team American Hockey League, despite icing one of the youngest rosters since affiliating with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002. They’re on pace for more than 100 points, and that’s only happened twice in six seasons.
In past years, the Red Wings loaded up the Griffins with minor-league veterans. But this season, with a huge crop of rookies in the first years of entry-level contracts, the Red Wings rolled the dice with youth, and it’s working.
Even former Griffins forward Carl Corazzini, one of the veterans the Red Wings signed last season, came away impressed after visiting with the Peoria Rivermen this week.
“I’m kind of jealous that I’m not on this team,” Corazzini, the Griffins’ leading scorer last season, told the Grand Rapids Press. “It’s definitely the fastest, most skilled team I’ve played against this year, even more so than (first-place) Manitoba. I think it’s a team I would have liked to play for.”
The Red Wings have placed 10 first- and second-year prospects on the Griffins, and that’s not counting hot-shot Griffins signee Francis Pare. Former AHL MVP Darren Haydar was the only true veteran the Red Wings brought in.
The Griffins boast the league’s best penalty-killing unit (86.8 per cent), the No. 3 power play (20.6 per cent), the third best offence (225 goals) and the ninth best goals against total (186). They also have a league-low penalty-minute total by a wide margin with 837. Only one other team has fewer than 1,037.
The late-season call-ups of Ville Leino, Darren Helm and Jonathan Ericsson haven’t been without impact. The Griffins are 7-9-2 in 18 games since Feb. 7 and will need to learn to fly on their own if all three end up in Detroit for the playoffs.
* Jan Mursak and Jamie Tardif were not named to the Griffins’ 22-man clear-day roster. That means they cannot dress for the Griffins the rest of this season or in the playoffs, barring emergency conditions (recall, injury, suspension).
* Forward Justin Abdelkader (Grand Rapids, AHL) is in contention to win the AHL rookie scoring race. With 12 games to go, he is third with 48 points in 64 games, five points behind Tim Kennedy (Portland) and four behind Brad Marchand (Providence). His 22 goals are second to Nate Gerbe’s 24.
* Forward Zack Torquato (Erie, Ontario Hockey League) is riding high into the playoffs as he pushes for a contract. Torquato posted 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points in his final 23 games, including 15 points in the final 10 games. But he still wasn’t able to surpass his draft-year high of 69 points.
* Forward Brent Raedeke (Edmonton, Western Hockey League) and defenseman Brian Lashoff (Kingston, OHL) both saw their seasons come to a close on the weekend, with their respective junior clubs missing the playoffs.