What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. Rachel Anderson, Jacob Rivard, and Tony Wolak are the muckers who makeup THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
The off-season is well underway and free agency fast approaching, the Detroit Red Wings have a few roster choices to make and have already begun in terms of their goaltenders. However, much has yet to be decided about the goaltending structure of their NHL and AHL clubs. Their recent transactions, Jimmy Howard was re-signed and the Grand Rapids Griffins’ Harri Sateri is off to Russia, there are a few voids needing to be filled.
With no sign of discontinuing the tandem practice, two goalies splitting starts throughout the season, Detroit will have to create their ideal NHL and AHL tendy-combos from existing prospects and free agency. The Grind Line decided to do the leg-work for them and create who we think the best netminding duos will be for the Grand Rapids Griffins and Red Wings.
Rachel Anderson: Resign Bernier and Add Filip Larsson
Though Detroit hasn’t made any moves with Jonathan Bernier, it’s a good chance they’ll choose to re-sign him for a short-term before he hits free agency. With really no suitable prospects ready to hit the NHL yet, Detroit is left with little choice in the matter in terms of a backup for Howard. When called upon, Bernier performed well – considering neither goalie had an outstanding season. With so many prospects making their way through the developmental channels, the Red Wings really only have to buy a few seasons before the draftees are primed and ready.
Grand Rapids is a tough call. Many, myself included, thought that Harri Sateri would be the veteran leadership they needed to help guide any entering youths. Now signed to the KHL, that leaves Patrik Rybar as the starter – assuming free agency doesn’t change his status. Rybar held a modest third-overall in the AHL during the 2018-19 season – his first season in the United States.
Assisting Rybar will likely be Filip Larsson. Brian Mahoney-Wilson, Goaltending Coach for Grand Rapids, was amply enthusiastic during the 2018-19 Training Camp and is confident his mature ability and no doubt, that enthusiasm will be justified. A much-anticipated prospect and highly praised for his season with Denver University, Larsson’s technical but confident style will be an excellent pairing for the analytical and equally technical Rybar.
Jacob Rivard: Explore Free Agency
If Bernier is traded or isn’t on the roster, I could see someone like Semyon Varlamov working perfectly as a backup for Howard. He’s spent his entire career between the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche, putting up decent stats all along the way. Injuries and inconsistencies have plagued Varly’s late career, though, making his potential signing very risky for teams on the playoff push.
If other teams are reluctant, Steve Yzerman may be able to negotiate a bargain deal for a goalie that could potentially steal a few regular season games here and there. With Filip Larsson and other goaltenders on the rise, Semyon Varlamov would serve as a good backstop before their eventual graduation to the major leagues.
With the departure of Harri Sateri to the KHL, the Griffins’ goaltending tandem is poised to make a few changes. Filip Larsson will no doubt be in the picture, having recently signed an entry-level deal with the Detroit Red Wings. But who will serve as the other half of Grand Rapids’ last line of defense? Patrik Rybar put together a semi-serviceable job last year with a 16-16-5 season.
At this point, though, none of the Red Wings’ other prospects seem ready to make the leap to the minors. Jesper Eliasson impressed this year in the Swedish SuperElit league. Joren van Pottelberghe is signed for another year in HC Davos in Switzerland. The Griffins will either have to re-sign Rybar or look for another potential free agent goalie like Pavel Francouz of Colorado. The ball’s in the Griffins’ court, but it looks like we’ll have to wait and see how Larsson pans out this year.
Tony Wolak: Jonathan Bernier and Filip Larsson
Heading into the 2018-19 season, Jonathan Bernier will once again back up Jimmy Howard in net for the Red Wings. Despite his paltry numbers during his first season in Detroit, Bernier didn’t have much of a chance behind the porous team defense in front of him.
In Grand Rapids, Patrik Rybar will have a chance to be “the guy” for the Griffins. He’s currently a restricted free agent and needs a new contract before the 2018-19 season begins.
Rybar performed well during his first campaign with the Griffins. The netminder was up for the challenge when starter Harri Sateri went down with an injury. And with Sateri off to the KHL, Rybar offers the Griffins some consistency between the pipes. He competes for every puck and rarely gives up on tracking it around the defensive zone.
Filip Larsson should enter his first professional campaign as the 1B option for the Griffins. Whenever a prospect joins the pro ranks at such a young age, they should play, but do so strategically throughout the season. He shouldn’t be thrown to the wolves or start 70 games in Grand Rapids. Let him feel it out.
As for Kaden Fulcher, he should be given the opportunity to start in the ECHL until there’s room with the Griffins.
I am a Detroit Red Wings prospect journalist for Access Hockey MI covering the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toledo Walleye prospect development. Draft analyst for USHL hockey with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.