By Pete Wallner, MLive.com
GRAND RAPIDS - When it comes to the postseason, the shortcomings of the Detroit Red Wings are benefits for the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The AHL franchise has the hockey spotlight in the state with the Red Wings out of the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, and that means an added chance to catch the eye of general manager Ken Holland.
Holland, who in past years has attended most Griffins' playoff games when they didn't conflict with the Red Wings, was on hand for the team's opening two games Friday and Sunday in Grand Rapids against Milwaukee.
So, who's ready for the NHL? Who's not quite there? This season, forward Andreas Athanasiou and defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul made the Red Wings out of camp, while in-season call ups Anthony Mantha and Nick Jensen stuck and became regulars.
Overall, 13 Griffins played with the Red Wings this season.
"There are two ways I look at it," Holland told MLive. "How many will make Detroit (for the opener in October) and how many will play games in Detroit next season?
"Realistically, two or three can make our team out of camp, but I'm hoping five, six, seven of these players at some point in time next year can either get an opportunity to get their feet wet and play some NHL games as they go along with their development. Or, 20, 30, 40 games in, they'll do what Anthony Mantha and Nick Jensen have done. There's an injury and they come up, get an opportunity, grab a job and never come back."
Defenseman Robbie Russo and center Tomas Nosek received extended late-season time with the Red Wings and are strong candidates to make the team to start next season. Tyler Bertuzzi, off to another strong start in the postseason, is another consideration.
What they do in the postseason will have lasting impression through the offseason.
"As I'm watching these games, I'm watching the young players to see how they react," Holland said. "If you're going to be in the National Hockey League, obviously you're going to have to be a real important player to this team."
The Griffins are at Milwaukee 8 p.m. (EDT) Wednesday with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Central Division Semifinals.
Even the young prospects not playing can benefit from the playoff atmosphere, Holland said. Detroit's top three picks from last year in defenseman Dennis Cholowski, right wing Givani Smith and defenseman Filip Hronek are among 10 prospects practicing with the team, and they sit together in the stands. They also traveled with the team to Milwaukee.
"They've come from Europe, college, junior ranks and this is their first taste of what professional playoff hockey is all about," Holland said. "So, it is a great opportunity for Shawn Horcoff (director of player development). I mean, the longer that Grand Rapids can play, the more time we have with the young people in our organization."
Holland, meanwhile, isn't just following the Griffins. He attended the Griffins' playoff opener with about four hours sleep after scouting 30-plus games in Slovakia at the U18 World Championships. He also was in Mississauga on Monday to scout an OHL playoff game as the organization prepares for the NHL Entry Draft on June 23-24.
"Obviously, I wish we were still playing but it's given me an opportunity," Holland said. "I'm out scouting way more than I would have in the past."
The Red Wings learn their draft position at a lottery Saturday. They have a 6.7 percent chance of receiving the top pick.