When Luke Glendening arrived in the American Hockey League last season, he brought along a whatever-it-takes mentality to make the National Hockey League.
Glendening quickly found a niche with the Detroit Red Wings’ affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mich., according to longtime Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek, following a 27-game stint with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL.
In a recent phone interview, Paek recalled Glendening’s will to compete and a willingness to shift from the wing to play a more defensive role at centre. This was the same Glendening who was a walk-on at the University of Michigan, where he rose to become team captain in his junior and senior years.
After graduating, Glendening signed a minor league contract with Grand Rapids and helped the Griffins win their first-ever Calder Cup last spring, tying for the AHL rookie lead with 16 playoff points in 24 games. He began this season in the AHL and had been shuffled back and forth to Detroit five times by Dec. 27.
Glendening played for the Griffins during the Olympic break in February but returned to Detroit for good, where he also played a defensive/penalty-kill role and was matched up against top centres like Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby late in the regular season.
“He did the same thing here [in Grand Rapids]. He was on for key faceoffs, against the top lines. On the penalty kill, he learned how to block shots so he doesn’t hurt himself,” said Paek of Glendening, whom the Red Wings recently signed to a three-year contract extension.
“He was a well-rounded athlete [playing football, baseball and hockey at East Grand Rapids High School]. When he hits guys [on the ice] he hits right through guys. He learned how to hit and take a hit. The attributes having played different sports has helped him in his hockey game and it’s really shown of late.”
The 24-year-old Glendening, along with his former Griffins teammates Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson and Riley Sheahan, answered Red Wings coach Mike Babcock’s call in the second half of the season when Detroit was missing as many as eight regulars from the lineup, including star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Paek said fans in Detroit and across the NHL saw the results of a Red Wings organization that has the luxury of their younger players and prospects being overripe, having developed in the American league from their draft day.
“With different organizations,” Paek said, “they would have been [playing in the NHL] maybe one year after the minors. And would they have been ready then? You look at them now; they’re NHL-ready, for sure.
“They were stars at this level. Mike Babcock and [his assistants Tom Renney and Bill Peters] have done a great job putting [these players] in the right situations where they’re going to succeed, and they have. It was about them getting an opportunity.”
Jurco, Tatar and Sheahan have another opportunity to contribute in their first Stanley Cup playoffs. Detroit hosts Boston in Game 3 of their first-round series on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET).
Below, we profile Sheahan, Jurco, Tatar, Andersson, Glendening and Nyquist, with Paek offering his view on how each could make an impact for the Red Wings.
Drafted: 4th round (121st overall) in 2008
2012-13 stats with Grand Rapids: 23 goals, 37 assists, 60 points in 58 games
2013-14 stats with Red Wings: 28 goals, 20 assists , 48 points in 57 games
Impact: Led NHL in goals since Jan. 20 with 23 … With Datsyuk and Zetterberg sidelined, had 10-game points streak (12 goals, two assists) … Finished second on team to Zetterberg in plus/minus at plus-16 … Topped all Red Wings with six game-winning goals.
Paek’s take: “He’ll rise to the occasion. The checking’s going to be a lot tighter on him [in the playoffs] because he’s done so well [late in the regular season]. But he’s such a smart player and very skilled that he’s going to find a way to get his points and score their big goals.”
Drafted: 2nd round (60th overall) in 2009
2012-13 stats with Grand Rapids: 23 goals, 26 assists, 49 points in 61 games
2013-14 stats with Red Wings: 19 goals, 20 assists, 39 points, plus-12 in 73 games
Impact: Finished the season with three assists and plus-3 rating in final three games playing on a line with Sheahan and Nyquist … Finished second to Nyquist with 19 goals … Led Red Wings with 158 shots in regular season.
Paek’s take: “He’s such a dynamic player. The knock on him in his first year [in Grand Rapids] was that he was too small, but he was hard to knock off the puck. That was as an 18-year-old and he’s just gotten better and stronger. He loves to score and will find ways to contribute.”
Drafted: 1st round (21st overall) in 2010
2012-13 stats with Grand Rapids: 16 goals, 20 assists, 36 points in 72 games
2013-14 stats with Red Wings: 9 goals, 15 assists, 24 points in 42 games
Impact: Succeeded in his third call-up to Red Wings in as many seasons, averaging 14 minutes 26 seconds a game … Scored from in front of the net to give Detroit a net-front presence entering the playoffs, especially on power play.
Paek’s take: “He has good hands, tremendous speed and he’ll surprise the other team’s forwards and defence. He’s strong on the puck, a heavy body [212 pounds] and he’ll cause some chaos in the net area. I know he doesn’t kill many penalties but he was a great penalty-killer here.”
Drafted: 2nd round (35th overall) in 2011
2012-13 stats with Grand Rapids: 14 goals, 14 assists, 28 points in 74 games
2013-14 stats with Red Wings: 8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points in 36 games
Impact: Recalled from Grand Rapids in early December and played nearly 17 minutes on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson. Averaged 13:27 for the season … Added physical presence much of the season on a line with Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar.
Paek’s take: “He’ll battle hard defensively and win puck battles. He’ll find his ways to contribute offensively, too. But most importantly, his offence will come from his good defensive play of stripping pucks and backchecking hard.”
Drafted: 3rd round (88th overall) in 2007
2012-13 stats with Grand Rapids: 10 goals, 17 assists, 27 points, five game-winning goals in 36 games
2013-14 stats with Red Wings: 8 goals, 9 assists, 17 points, minus-11 in 65 games
Impact: Picked up two assists in four games in early March while centring top line with Gustav Nyquist and Johan Franzen … Won 51.4 per cent of faceoffs during regular season.
Paek’s take: “As a penalty killer, he’s a very smart centreman. He’ll win you faceoffs and defensively he’s really strong in the defensive zone. He’s a big body [six-foot-two, 206 pounds] and deceptive in that he can make small plays. He has good hands and is good around the net.”
Drafted: Undrafted; signed to minor league deal by AHL Grand Rapids in 2012
2012-13 stats with Grand Rapids: 8 goals, 18 assists, 26 points, plus-12 in 51 games
2013-14 stats with Red Wings: 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points, minus-8 in 56 games
Impact: Member of penalty-kill unit that ranked 12th during regular season … Role and responsibilities increased as Red Wings injuries mounted … Grinder often played 16-18 minutes a game against NHL’s top centres, earning him three-year contract extension.
Paek’s take: “He’s learned to be an agitator, to get under the skin of the opposing team’s best players. If he continues to do that he’ll [have a successful playoffs]. With the faceoffs, he does his homework and if the puck comes to him he’ll rise to the occasion. With his determination, nothing will stop him.”