The Summer of Coaches continues, as former Edmonton Oilers interim coach Todd Nelson was expected to take over the bench in Grand Rapids with the AHL's Griffins. Detroit's top farm team had been run by Jeff Blashill, who graduated up to the NHL squad when Mike Babcock left for Toronto recently.
In Nelson, the Griffins get a coach who began his post-playing days in Grand Rapids – he was an assistant for one season before taking the head coaching job with the now-defunct United League's Muskegon Fury, winning back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005.
The former journeyman defenseman, who had a cup of coffee with the Washington Capitals, has also been an NHL assistant with the Atlanta Thrashers and had a good run with the Oilers' AHL squad in Oklahoma City, losing in the conference final two years in a row. Current Capitals coach Barry Trotz was a big influence on Nelson early on.
Nelson was part of Edmonton's shaky transition after the mid-season firing of Dallas Eakins this season, taking over on an interim basis alongside GM Craig MacTavish. He was reportedly given an interview for the full-time position by new GM Peter Chiarelli, but the franchise went with the more experienced Todd McLellan in the end.
Landing in Grand Rapids is a nice situation for Nelson. The Griffins made it to the conference final this year before losing to Utica and many of the top players will be back. While leading scorer Teemu Pulkkinen may be a full-time NHLer, he will replaced by another sizzling prospect in center Dylan Larkin, who left the University of Michigan after an excellent freshman campaign and even won bronze at the World Championship with Team USA, holding his own against NHL competition.
Other notable names in Grand Rapids include Tyler Bertuzzi, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul. Perhaps the most important player now under Nelson's command however, is left winger Anthony Mantha.
The rookie pro, who was a gifted goal-scorer in junior, was called out by Detroit senior VP Jim Devellano for a lack of production, though Mantha was also coming off a broken leg that cost him valuable time at the beginning of the campaign.