Josh Gratton to Get a Crack at the NHL - Maybe
The Arizona Republic has a story today how Josh Gratton might make his Coyotes debut tonight.
The Republic calls Gratton an “enforcer-type forward”. He does have 9 goals this season in the AHL, matching his total from last season, but with 2 NHL and 18 AHL fights this season, and 31 AHL fights last year, Josh Gratton is definitely an enforcer.
Gretzky loves Gratton’s toughness and enthusiasm, but he is concerned Gratton’s not fully recovered from a staph infection in his right knee, and he doesn’t want to put Gratton into a situation where he might end up swapping punches with Columbus enforcer Jody Shelley when he’s not completely healthy.
Blue Jackets coach Gerard Gallant called some of his players “soft” after their defeat to Anaheim on Sunday, so the Blue Jackets likely will be feisty tonight.
“That’s one of the reasons I wouldn’t mind having Gratton in the lineup, but Shelley is one of the tougher guys in hockey,” Gretzky said.
“The last thing I want to do to a 23-year-old kid who is excited to be here is to have him fight one of the best fighters in the game.”
Gratton is extremely eager to show Gretzky what he can do.
“I talked to him about maybe just playing and forgetting about that (fighting) part of it, and he just kind of rolled his eyes,” Gretzky said. “So I’ve got to make sure he’s close to 100 percent before I put him in there.”
Speaking to a good amount of tough guys over the years (I’ve never spoken to Gratton), I’ll make the assumption this 23-year-old is looking to do anything but forget about fighting. He knows he won’t get a lot of minutes of ice time. In 3 games for the Flyers he averaged 5 minutes per game. He might only get one chance to make an impression and chances are that’s a bout against Jody Shelley.
The Coyotes are 13 points away from a playoff spot. The season will be ending in mid-April for this club. It’s not uncommon to see an organization in the Coyotes position give a few young guys a shot, enforcer or otherwise. The Coyotes’ AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage is currently in dead-last. There aren’t a whole lot of players that they need to test out, so it’s understandable that Gratton may get a few games in at this point.
However, this is a team that skated without a designated tough guy the whole season. They had Doug Doull in the system before trading him to Washington/Hershey. They still have Chris McAllister, who is not only capable when dropping the gloves, but has over 300 games of NHL experience.
When the Coyotes traded for Gratton (giving up Denis Gauthier and also getting two draft picks), I was a little confused. Gretzky hadn’t been playing a tough guy all year. Why trade for this kid if you’re not going to give him a shot? Why not just get another draft pick? There are a variety of answers, skill level of the tough guys they had, perhaps age (McAllister is 30, Doull 31). Whatever it was, I found it odd. Gretzky never needed to be a tough guy while playing, but his team (any of them) always had one who skated close by him. While ‘Yotes captain Shane Doan isn’t shy about taking matters into his own hands, you can’t say the same about most on the roster.
So I wonder now: is Gratton getting a shot at being an NHLer? Is he filler entertainment for the rest of the season now that the Coyotes are out of the playoff race? Or is Gretzky testing his team to see if they play any differently with a tough guy on board?
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