The Detroit Red Wings may be out of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, are doing quite well for themselves in the Calder Cup playoffs. After edging the Toronto Marlies 3-2 in the opening round, the Griffins handled the Rockford Ice Hogs easily 4-1, with a 5-3 victory in Game 5. There are a few players that have really stood out for the Griffins thus far in the playoffs, and the big club in Detroit is certainly taking notice.
Coming over from the Portland Pirates this past season, Miele fit in nicely with Grand Rapids, scoring 26 goals and 70 points in 71 games in the regular season. The center, who is a Detroit-native, has also been instrumental to the Griffins’ playoff success thus far, tied for fourth among all AHL players with 13 points and tied for the playoff-lead with 10 assists in his ten games played.
He assisted on both goals in Game 4 of the Griffins’ series with the Ice Hogs, being responsible for the primary assist on the overtime winner that put Grand Rapids up 3-1 overall. He also had three points in Game 5, one of them being the Griffins’ second goal of the game, and had a +5 rating in all four Grand Rapids’ victories, improving to +2 overall in the playoffs.
The Griffin offense has been a big reason why they were able to take down the Ice Hogs in just five games, and Miele has done a fantastic job helping that cause for his team.
It’s been quite the year for Tyler Bertuzzi. The 20-year-old left winger spent the year down in the OHL with the Guelph Storm, where he played in 68 games and scored 43 goals and 98 points, which was more than in his three previous seasons in the league combined. He also posted six goals and eight points in nine playoff games, which was all the Griffins needed to see to call him up after the Storm were eliminated from the playoffs.
In only two games with the Griffins in the regular season Bertuzzi had one goal and a -2 rating, but in the playoffs he has been one of the most dynamic scorers in the entire AHL. He is tied for third in the AHL in goals with six and tenth in the AHL in points with nine. Bertuzzi really shined in Games 4 and 5 against the Ice Hogs, scoring the two Griffin goals, including the OT winner, in Game 4 and netting the game winner in Game 5 which can be seen in the highlights below.
Bertuzzi’s play in the playoffs is impressive just by looking at the stat sheet, but when you see that he is just a rookie it jumps out at you even more. At the young age of 20, perhaps a half a year in the AHL will be enough next season for Bertuzzi to get a call up to the Red Wings as a dynamic goal scorer.
While Miele and Bertuzzi have been spectacular, the Griffins would be absolutely nowhere without right-winger Teemu Pulkkinen. The 23-year-old leads all scorers with 13 goals and 15 points in the playoffs, and factored into three of the four Griffin wins in the second round. He scored a hat trick, the third goal being the game-winner, in the Griffins 5-3 victory in Game 1, scored two goals and had three points in the team’s 5-1 victory in Game 2, and had a power play goal along win an assist in the series clinching Game 5.
The one knock on Pulkkinen in these playoffs is his -2 rating, but he has shown game in and game out that he is a very capable scorer at the AHL level. Pulkkinen did see 31 games up in the NHL this season, scoring only five goals and eight points, but with that experience already ahead of him and a great Calder Cup playoff thus far, hard work at next year’s camp might give him a full-time spot on one of the Wings’ bottom lines.
The Red Wings did see an early exit from the playoffs this season, but year in and year out it always seems like the Griffins are near the top of the Western Conference and making deep runs into the Calder Cup playoffs. Each year there are different prospects who end up making a difference, this year it’s Pulkkinen, Bertuzzi and Miele.
In the past, these players benefit from the playoff experience they get in the AHL and end up transitioning nicely into the NHL with the Wings when they are ready. There’s plenty of hockey left to play for these three Griffins, but the question has to start surfacing: are these three close to taking the next step?