>You’ll want to keep a copy of Griffiti handy for the first few weeks of the Griffins’ 2004-05 season. Especially for that home opener on Oct. 15.
> Yes, as always, a host of familiar faces is expected to return to Van Andel Arena this fall, including the likes of Joey MacDonald , Nathan Robinson , Jiri Hudler , Darryl Bootland , Matt Ellis , Tomas Kopecky , Danny Groulx , Eric Himelfarb and Brett Lebda.
> Depending on how matters shake out, that group could also include Niklas Kronwall , who made a fantastic debut on the NHL stage last season after earning an AHL all-star selection with the Griffins.
> However, due to the departures or retirements of some of the most storied names in franchise history – including Michel Picard , Derek King and Marc Lamothe – the Griffins’ 2004-05 roster will be infused with a number of young prospects and new veterans.
> Chief among the battle-hardened newcomers are defenseman Bryan Helmer and center Eric Manlow, each of whom has enjoyed frequent stints in the NHL over the last few seasons.
> Helmer, 32, split last season between the NHL ’s Phoenix Coyotes and the AHL’s Springfield Falcons. After missing four months due to a shoulder injury, he returned to log 17 games with Phoenix and register seven points (1-6—7) in nine appearances for Springfield. A 1998 First Team AHL All-Star with Albany , Helmer has scored 324 points (82-242—324) in 552 AHL contests over his 11-year career. He has also earned ice time in the NHL during each of the last six seasons, totaling 23 points (8-15—23) in 134 games with Phoenix , St. Louis and Vancouver.
>The 29-year-old Manlow played the last two seasons in the New York Islanders organization. In just 40 games with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2003-04, he led the club with 27 assists, tied for third with 35 points (8-27—35), and shared second with a plus-15 rating. That served as an encore for a 2002-03 campaign in which he ranked second on the team with 59 points (19-40—59) and 40 assists in 62 games. Manlow, who contributed two assists in 18 games with the Islanders last season, has totaled six points (2-4—6) in 37 NHL contests over the last four seasons, while compiling 254 points (79-175—254) in 314 AHL games since 1996.
>Another seasoned player expected to make an impact is forward Johan Franzen, who at the not-so-tender age of 24 became the Red Wings’ first pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. His size (6-2, 207) and experience should prove to be an asset, and his top-30 ranking among Sweden ’s scorers last season showed he could do a thing or two with the puck.
>Other fresh faces to possibly keep an eye on include Derek Meech, a skilled, 20-year-old defenseman out of Red Deer (WHL) who played for Canada in the 2004 World Junior Championships; Todd Jackson, 23, a hard-working defensive forward who captained Maine to the 2004 NCAA championship game; and goalie Drew MacIntyre, who showed promise with a 2.61 GAA and a 0.919 save percentage in 11 games with ECHL Toledo last season before enduring a hernia which prematurely ended his season.