TRAVERSE CITY – New Grand Rapids Griffins coach Dan Watson was thinking about today, tomorrow and beyond when he decided to play 6-foot-4 Swede William Wallinder and 6-foot-5 Finn Antti Tuomisto on the same defensive pairing for the opening game of the NHL Prospects Tournament.
It was only one game, and what happens this season in Grand Rapids will say more about their long-potential, but the Wallinder and Tuomisto pairing played Game 1 like a tandem that boasts long-term NHL potential.
“I thought last night they were the best D team on the ice,” Watson said Friday.
Tuomisto,22, scored one of Detroit’s goals in a 4-2 loss to the Stars and Wallinder generated five shots on goal. Watson used both of the players on the power play, penalty kill and matched them up against the best players. This feels more like a coach wanting to see how they play together than a coach just mixing and matching for a short tournament. Wallinder and Tuomisto even room together. They have been training together for two weeks.
What pro coach wouldn’t want two extra-large men, whose abilities complement each other, playing on a paring.
“I think so,” Watson said about their potential to be a long-term pairing. “They play different styles No. 1. William is real mobile. He can move pucks. He can provide some of that offense. With Antti, he’s got a great first pass. He’s big. He’s long. He has no problem playing a physical style of defensive game. So that’s a good pair, a pair that could go against the other team’s top lines. They have that experience of playing against pros in Europe. So that’s the basis for why they are paired together. ”
Pair Boasts European Experience
Wallinder, 21, has two seasons in the Swedish Hockey League on his resume. It’s well established how the Red Wings feel about the preparation the SHL provides players. “There’s a lot of good players,” Wallinder said. “It’s a great league.”
Last season, William Wallinder had a strong season (26 points in 50 games) and was named EHC Young Player of the Year. He was the Red Wings’ second-round pick in 2020. Wallinder was the 32nd pick. Today, the 32nd pick in the first rounder.
Today, the Red Wings’ top three defensive prospects are probably Simon Edvinsson, Axel Sandin Pellikka and Wallinder in that order, but Wallinder is significantly more advanced than Sandin Pellikka. Wallinder is three-plus years older than Sandin Pellikka He’s simply closer to being NHL ready. Albert Johansson, another Swede, is in the discussion at No. 4. Johansson came close to getting a call-up to the Red Wings last season.
Tuomisto was falling on the Red Wings’ prospect list in his second season at the University of Denver. He was Carter Mazur’s teammate. But he started to climb again after he left school to play in the top league in Finland. This is not a case of Wallinder supplying offense and Tuomisto playing more defensively. Both are well-rounded players.
“Obviously you see (Tuomisto) can shoot the puck,” Watson said. “For him, if he keeps it simple, if he plays a hard game, he’s gonna have success and he’s gonna grow. With William, I think you can see exactly what he is. There is some offensive tools there. He’s a smart player. He can skate, He’s got all the tools there to be a really good pro for a long time.”
Watson has expectations for them at the NHL Prospects Tournament.
“They’re gonna play important minutes here in this tournament,” Watson said. “Hopefully throughout camp they can keep on improving and getting better and set themselves up for success hopefully in Grand Rapids.”