DETROIT – The list of candidates to replace Mike Babcock as the next coach of the Detroit Red Wings is a short one, according to general manager Ken Holland.
Holland said he plans to speak with only two or three candidates before deciding who will get the job and Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill is considered to be the leading candidate.
Blashill is no stranger to most of the players on the Red Wings roster. The veterans were around when Blashill was a Red Wings assistant coach in 2011-12 and the younger players know Blashill from his three seasons as coach of the Griffins, Detroit's top farm club.
"He's a great coach," said Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar, who spent one season with Blashill in Grand Rapids. "He's a good talker. He can motivate the players. I feel like the system and how he's willing to play with the players is really good.
"Players feel like they can talk to him. He's somebody who they can trust and feel good. He's really good with the players. I feel like the players can trust him. He's a really good coach."
Blashill led the Griffins to the AHL championshipin 2013, his first season in Grand Rapids. Tatar was the playoff MVP with 16 goals in 24 games and hasn't been back to the minors since. He led the Red Wings with 29 goals this season.
Tomas Jurco was also on the Griffins' Calder Cup team, scoring 14 goals during 74 regular-season games and then adding eight more in the playoffs. He split the following season between Grand Rapids and Detroit before spending all of last season with the Red Wings.
"I love Blash," Jurco said. "He just understands the game really well. He's a really good guy and you can talk to him and he understands you a person. Great guy, great coach, and I only have great memories of him."
Blashill communicates well with players, according to Jurco.
"Yeah, he's a really good talker and that's one of the best things about him," Jurco said. "Every time he showed me something it was like 'You are right. I can do it differently.' He just understands it so well. He knows what the players can do a little differently.
"He's a great coach."
Nobody on the Red Wings' playoff roster spent more time playing under Blashill in Grand Rapids than forward Landon Ferraro, who played 212 regular-season games with the Griffins the past three seasons.
Ferraro was one of Grand Rapids' top players this season with 27 goals before joining the Red Wings at the end of the regular season and then appearing in all seven playoff games vs. Tampa Bay.
He sees similarities between Blashill and Babcock.
"Just the attention to detail I think is the biggest part," Ferraro said. "They both are really good hockey minds and they care and they want to make sure they give their teams everything to succeed on the ice.
"With Blash, for him it's all about work and if you do your part, it's going to come together and you just got to make sure that happens and when we finally bought into that was his first year, it really turned our year around and it obviously ended up in a championship."
Ferraro, the Red Wings' second-round choice (32nd overall) in the 2009 NHL draft, struggled as a rookie with the Griffins in 2011-12 before blossoming under Blashill the following season.
He scored 24 goals during the Griffins' championship season but it was Ferraro's speed and defensive ability as much as anything that helped him land a spot on Detroit's playoff roster.
Ferraro credited Blashill with helping him develop into a regular for the Red Wings during the playoffs.
"He's taken me from a guy that had the tools to get here and get a chance to someone that's actually got here," Ferraro said. "(Blashill) made it clear that I wasn't going to make it right away as a scorer and I got to make sure I'm good defensively and I made a ton of strides with him working with me the last three years.
"I owe a lot to him and it's been good. He's a guy I would pretty much do anything for. I trust him and he's got the respect of the all the guys in Grand Rapids."
In Grand Rapids, Ferraro said Blashill knew the difference between handling younger players as opposed to veterans.
"Some of the younger guys, he's harder on them," Ferraro said. "You kind of want to break that junior mold. You can be a really good goal scorer in junior but you get into the American League and guys are good.
"He did it with Jurco. It took him until Christmas and then he turned it around and was a huge part of our team."
Blashill, 41, is a former goaltender who played four seasons at Ferris State before spending the next three as an assistant coach with the Bulldogs.
He spent six more seasons as an assistant at Miami (Ohio) University, led the USHL's Indiana Ice to a championship in the first of two seasons there and coached at Western Michigan for one year before being hired by Babcock.
In three seasons with the Griffins, Blashill has a record of 134-71-23 (.638).
This season, the Griffins won the Midwest Division championship with a 46-22-8 record and their 100 points were tied for the third-most in the 30-team AHL. They're in the Western Conference Finals.
Blashill is a Michigan native who was born in Sault Ste. Marie.