I argued many years ago that an NHL prospect needs at least two of three things to break into the league: talent, opportunity and luck. The reality is a bit more complicated, of course, but as a simple rule of thumb it tends to hold.
The first two factors are self explanatory. Luck, the third, is the tricky one, both to obtain and understand. My consideration of luck as a key factor in getting kids to the show was based on the illustrative example of David Moss some years ago in Calgary. I think it’s an illustrative example of what’s happening with Granlund currently and why it will likely mean he’s destined to stick in the big league.
The Case of David Moss
During the Flames over long dry spell of bad drafting, David Moss was one of the rare exceptions. A 7th round pick, Moss gradually worked his way through college and the organization’s farm ranks to become an everyday NHLer by the age of 25.
Moss’ journey to the NHL is an unlikely one given his draft position and the fact that he was never a particularly compelling player (from a flashy skill perspective). When he got the call-up from the club in 2006 due to injury, he was one of the better farm players in Omaha, both because he was already in his mid-20’s and because the team was not blessed with a lot of great prospects at the time.
So the situation meant there was opportunity. What sealed his status as an NHLer, though, was an outburst of good fortune.
During Moss’ first three NHL games he scored three goals, including a game winner. That seemed to confirm he was NHL quality in the hearts and minds of the fans and coaching staff. Moss stuck around and played 41 games for the parent club that year and thanks to War-on-ice we can see he enjoyed a PDO of about 103. His personal shooting percentage settled in at 14.3% that season – his highest ever and well clear of the 8% career rate he’s establish over some 440+ games as an NHLer so far.
Moss never played another game in the minors. And, to his credit, he proved to be a useful player when he wasn’t riding the percentages, which is a big reason he has stuck around so long. That said, it’s entirely possible Moss never would have broken into the league beyond a cup of coffee without a kiss from lady luck. There are a lot of David Moss type guys who spend their career in the minors or Europe because they just can’t get over the threshold. Opportunity and fortune conspired to get him over the hump.
The Case of Markus Granlund
Marcus Granlund is King Midas right now.
— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) November 21, 2014
Something similar is going on with 21 year old Markus Granlund currently. Pressed into action thanks to a swath of injuries, the Flames rookie already has nine points in 11 games, including 3 goals. Prior to the win over the New Jersey Devils, he had five points in the previous three games. Everything Granlund seems to touch turns to gold. His success is so pronounced it has some Flames fans suggesting Mikael Backlund is expendable.
The source of these results can be found in the underlying numbers. Although Granlund is currently under water possession wise, he neverthless enjoyed an incredible 21.74% on-ice SH% through his first 10 games of the year and a mind boggling PDO of 111.7 (for context, anything over 102.5 is typically unsustainable). That means every 5th puck shot at the net with Granlund on the ice at ES so far has gone in, a rate is way, way above of the NHL-mean of about 8%. For comparion’s sake, Sidney Crosby’s on-ice SH% this year is just over 9% and he’s a generational offensive talent.
Regular readers will remember that Sean Monahan went through something similar through his first 10-15 games last year as well, which is partially what convinced the Flames to keep him in the big league rather than return him to junior. Incidentally, Monahan’s on-ice SH% so far this year is 7.75%, which is instructive to anyone thinking Granlund’s current outburst can simply be extrapolated upwards.
When healthy bodies start to return to the Flames line-up, Granlund will probably be one of the kids who sticks because of his incredible run to start the year. Of course, none of this is to say Granlund is actually a bad prospect who will collapse once the percentages regress. He has NHL calibre tools, 3 years of pro hockey and, at 21, is playing in a role that should be well above his clearance level right now. Like Moss, it’s possible (probable, even) he could develop into a useful NHLer, even if he’s getting a hand-up from the hockey gods to start.
The role of luck is important to note for two reasons:
1.) Granlund won’t look as impressive when the pucks start going in at a normal rate for him. Expectations for rookies in town seem to be reasonably muted these days so I don’t expect a grand inquisition once that happens, but it’s worth bringing up.
2.) Much more importantly, Granlund doesn’t replace Mikael Backlund in the Flames line-up, so those notions should be stricken. No forward on the Flames drives play like Backlund currently. The day Granlund becomes as capable a two-way player as Backlund is the day we can all high-five and discuss maybe moving Mikael, but that day isn’t here yet (and is no guarantee to ever appear).