Derek Meech was one day away from joining the Detroit Red Wings for his fourth season when he found himself officially pushed out of the NHL fraternity Oct. 6.
A pre-season concussion and impressive play from rookie Jakub Kindl conspired to slide Meech off the Detroit roster to the NHL waiver wire. Left unclaimed, the defenseman made his way back to the American League.
Before his return to the Grand Rapids Griffins, Meech had not been on an AHL roster since a six-game stint with the Griffins during the 2007-08 season. Meech played 49 games last season with Detroit, a career high.
When an NHL player is cast off to the AHL, sulking is always an option and one that has been exercised countless times over the years. But a wise player will instead view the demotion as an audition for a job with 29 other NHL teams and Meech has done just that in the early going with Grand Rapids.
Coach Curt Fraser and the Griffins, of course, were thrilled to land the 26-year-old, who immediately headlines the club’s blueline. Meech along with AHL veteran Greg Amadio, a two-time Calder Cup-winner with Hershey, provide leadership to a group that includes top prospect Brendan Smith (27th overall in 2007), rookie Brian Lashoff, plus Travis Ehrhardt and Sergei Kolosov.
“What a bonus to get this kid,” Fraser said.
The coach lauded Meech's leadership and skill, and will happily take those ingredients while he can, pairing the six-year pro with the aforementioned Lashoff. Meech may now be a league lower than he was, but the adjustments are substantial and he’s finding the less-structured AHL game to be “a different game all around.”
Meech's workload has also increased substantially now that he’s playing first-pairing minutes. But after managing no more than 19 minutes of ice time in any one game with the Red Wings last season, he admitted it’s “nice to get those minutes,” even if they are coming in the AHL.
The Griffins headed to Meech’s hometown of Winnipeg last weekend for a two-game series with the Manitoba Moose, an early-season favorite for many observers across the AHL. But Grand Rapids departed with two victories, sending a statement to the Western Conference that the Griffins should be considered a contender once again after missing the post-season last spring.
The penalty kill, a trouble spot last season, shut out what is expected to be a high-powered Moose offense on 12 opportunities and limited Manitoba to just two goals on home ice.
Meech’s AHL demotion, meanwhile, was timely. Along with the two-win weekend, the trip afforded the defenseman a chance to play his first game in his hometown since November 2006.
“It's always fun to come back home,” he said.
THIS AND THAT
• Long-time AHL president and Hockey Hall of Fame member Jack Butterfield passed away last weekend at age 91. Butterfield guided the AHL for 28 seasons, including during the tumultuous 1970s when the league faced extinction in the face of competition from the World Hockey Association and NHL expansion.
• Peoria veteran Graham Mink, acquired in a summer deal with the Florida Panthers, won AHL weekly honors for a two-goal, seven-point effort in three road wins last weekend. Mink leads all AHL scorers with four goals and 12 points. In all, six Rivermen rank among the AHL's top 20 scorers heading into play Thursday.
• Rookie Luke Adam is tied for second in the AHL scoring race with teammate Mark Mancari. The pair of Portland Pirates each have five goals and 10 points through six games.
• Norfolk has piled up 23 goals its first four games, all wins. The rival Charlotte Checkers, a club expected to contend for the Eastern Conference crown, has started the season with a 1-5 mark.
• The AHL's second CBC telecast of the season goes Sunday Oct. 24 when Oklahoma City visits Hamilton for a 1:00 p.m. EST faceoff. Viewers in the United States can watch the CBC feed on the NHL Network.
From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world's second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiles prospects destined for the next level. It appears every Thursday only on TheHockeyNews.com.