Last season, the Calgary Flames made Max Reinhart one of their first recalls from their American Hockey League affiliate in Adirondack. A third-year pro, Reinhart was coming up to the end of his entry-level deal and as a player drafted and signed by a previous regime, he was given a shot to prove himself.
He was fine in the NHL, but hardly made a case for future employment. He was soon dispatched back to the AHL, and other players got shots subsequently. Reinhart was traded in the off-season. Based upon the two recalls from the farm thus far this season, I suspect that Derek Grant’s emergence as a useful bottom-six player may have turned Markus Granlund into this season’s version of Max Reinhart.
ALL ABOUT GRANLUND
Markus Granlund is 22. He’s 5’11” and 190-ish pounds. His game is based on finesse and speed, and he came to the Flames system after a few fairly productive seasons in the Finnish SM-Liiga. On the farm, he’s proven to be one of their better players – with a season each in Abbotsford, Adirondack and now Stockton as one of their most prolific offensive weapons and two-way players.
As of this writing, Granlund has suited up for 56 games in the NHL with the Calgary Flames. He’s primarily been used as a third and fourth-line center, with occasional time on the power-play and penalty kill, and he’s amassed 21 points in that time-span. However, two obstacles have stood in the way of Granlund becoming an everyday NHLer: Calgary’s forward depth and his face-off struggles.
When Granlund was drafted in 2011 (by Jay Feaster), the Flames didn’t have many good centers – and had few strong center prospects. Aside from Mikael Backlund, the jury was out on the future of the team up the middle. But in 2013 the club drafted Sean Monahan (who went straight to the NHL) and in 2014 they selected Sam Bennett (who also went straight to the NHL), while Josh Jooris came out of nowhere, Bill Arnold won an NCAA championship and became a more prominent prospect, and Matt Stajan revitalized his career by becoming a strong bottom-six center. All of a sudden, Markus Granlund is roughly fifth or sixth on the depth chart in terms of centers.
It might be even worse for wingers. Granlund would have to compete with Kenny Agostino and Emile Poirier for call-ups on the wing, and would have to oust any number of established wingers (Gaudreau, Frolik, Hudler, Bouma, Ferland, Jones…) for ice-time. The only guys the coaching staff would probably rotate him in over on the wings are Mason Raymond and Brandon Bollig, which would likely mean he’d have to play a bottom-six role on the wings, too.
MEET DEREK GRANT
Grant was signed by the Flames on July 1 as a free agent, brought in by Brad Treliving. He came over from the Ottawa Senators system, where he played 25 NHL games in 2012-13 and 2013-14 but otherwise spent time as a reliable pivot for the Binghamton Senators of the AHL. But as a 6’3″, 210ish pound player, Grant seems much more physically-suited to a grinding bottom-six role on the Flames.
And that’s before we get into face-offs.
FACE-OFFS AND THEIR IMPACT
In 29 NHL games, Derek Grant has won 54.5% of his draws, with only 35% offensive zone starts. That’s quite good for a depth guy, as his face-off prowess allows the coaching staff to give favourable starts to the team’s more offensively-suited players, while his size probably helps in puck retrieval. Markus Granlund in his NHL career has won only 38% of his draws, one of the lowest percentages during that time-span in the entire league. Perhaps because of his face-off struggles, he’s gotten 51.8% offensive zone starts in his career, which likely hamstrings the coaching staff’s ability to give the high ground to their top lines.
SUM IT UP
Markus Granlund is a really good AHL player. He probably should be in the NHL by now. But because of the specific circumstances in Calgary – he’s behind a bunch of more established players that can win face-offs as a center, and he’s less established as a winger and behind even more players there – it’s very unlikely that he’ll get a shot going forward. The fact that Derek Grant got the second recall (after Granlund went up and down rather quietly earlier this season) and Grant’s success as a role player during his time in the line-up probably seals Granlund’s fate going forward.
Much like Max Reinhart, Granlund’s a prospect inherited from a prior regime. He’s a player with some value, undoubtedly, but at this point rather than being a fringe guy trying to break into the NHL, he’s probably an asset that they’ll try to maximize in value over the remainder of the season.