What a strange case Markus Granlund is. The man can score goals and put up points at the AHL level. There is no doubt about that. But while every physical clue we have points towards him playing wing, this season Granlund has basically been welded to the number-three centre spot and been given choice situations all while failing to do much of anything as an NHL centre thus far.
So what should the Flames do with him? Move him to the wing? Trade him (as Pat suggested was a possibility this morning?) Let’s talk about it after the jump.
WHAT TO DO?
Since being selected in the second round of the 2011 Draft (courtesy of the Tim Erixon trade haul), Markus Granlund has been something of a mystery to most Flames fans. A bona-fide stud at the AHL level but unable to produce meaningful possession or counting numbers at the NHL level, I’m not quite sure most fans know what to expect from him any more.
Since coming to North America, Granlund has been one of the most consistent offensive contributors at the AHL level, including a sizzling-hot 46 points in 52 games during his rookie campaign of 2013-14. Since then, Granlund has been subjected to a million different recalls and demotions (as described here by Ryan) but has settled into a long stretch of games during this season.
The problem? He is playing almost exclusively as a centreman and that…is not really working out so well. It goes without saying that Granlund is still only 22 years old so there is definitely room for his game to grow, however, in the growing sample that he has offered the Flames at the NHL level there is increasing evidence that he might be in over his head.
Max Reinhart. Right. I had started to forget about him. Wonder what he’s up to? *checks* (20pts in 40 AHL games this year) Yeah, that’s about exactly right.
Let’s start with one of the most obvious measurements of centremen: faceoffs. Over 78 NHL games, Markus Granlund’s career faceoff percentage is a paltry 39.6%. This season, Granlund’s got himself to 43.3% over 23 games, worst among all Flames centres who have taken at least 200 faceoffs. It should also be noted that the Flames, as a centre-corps, are generally dreadful at faceoffs with Sean Monahan, this season’s top faceoff guy, sitting below 50% in close to 1000 draws.
This has been a problem for Granlund throughout his time in the NHL as last season, in over 500 draws, Granlund won just 36.8% of them. Yikes. Though it should not be overly surprising that a young player struggles to win faceoffs it is concerning that throughout his career (nearing one full season split over three years), Granlund has been brutalized in the dot.
While the Flames struggle to win faceoffs since well, Stephane Yelle, has been well-documented, the Flames may have someone within their system who can actually do it. Derek Grant, the never-publicized Flames signing from this past July has been dragging the Stockton Heat on his back this season, scoring at better than a point-per-game rate (28 pts in 24 games).
Grant even spent a bit of time up with Flames this season, playing nine games and averaging under ten minutes of ice-time during that stint. However, what is striking about Grant is that the man can win faceoffs, albeit in a pretty small sample so far. Through 34 games played over three seasons, Grant has won 138 of his 255 faceoffs (54.1%). I understand that Grant isn’t exactly Patrice Bergeron in the circle but among Flames centres in the dot, it wouldn’t take much to become FACEOFF GOD™
Also, Grant can do this (skip to 1:44), the rest is mostly Jon Gilles getting scored on which no one needs to see:
While there may be a temptation to look at Grant and say “Great! Send Granlund down and recall Grant!” we likely know what Grant is already. We know what he can bring to the team and while that is valuable, Granlund’s skill may be more valuable to the team in the long-run. Essentially, it may be a better bet to try and develop Granlund because he’s younger while Grant is more-or-less a reliable AHLer who can win a draw every now and again. However, Granlund’s offense, at least this season has been basically zilch, and may be the product of playing centre.
As far as possession goes, Granlund hasn’t been driving play effectively at all in the most basic of metrics (AKA: the only ones I am really equipped to speak about). Among Flames forwards who have played at least 20 games, and are not named Brandon Bollig because dear god don’t get me started, Granlund ranks dead last with a GF% of 38.5. When looking at all Flames Forwards, I mean every last one of ’em, including the aforementioned bumbling beard on skates, Granlund is dead-last again in terms of Shots-for% with 41.9. Furthermore, Granlund is managing these struggles while getting the best offensive zone start percentages of any Flames centre (41%).
During a game from last week, Kent noted Granlund’s struggles to drive play:
Markus Granlund has a CF% of 5.6% last night. Flames were outshot 17-1 at ES with him on the ice.
— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) January 17, 2016
Probably time to end “Granlund as 3rd C” experiment.
— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) January 17, 2016
Then there’s the scoring problem. This season, despite all the cherry offensive zone starts, Granlund has just four points in 24 games. That’s not great for a player who has been able to score throughout his entire career. While I know that scoring goals isn’t the only measurement of whether or not a player is effective at his job, I wonder if a centreman can’t win draws, generate shots at his opponent’s net, doesn’t hit people, score goals, or garner assists, then what exactly are they good at?
No doubt that Granlund is a hard-worker and Bob Hartley seems to like him a great deal, using Granlund as a penalty-killer as well. Personally, it is refreshing to see Hartley give his affection to a different kind of player, rather than say, Kevin Westgarth, but the loyalty, at least positionally-speaking, is strange.
Granlund has scored at the NHL level, but mostly during last season where he was used as a winger as well. Granlund’s size and skill leads one to infer that he would be a winger at the NHL level but this season Hartley seems intent on developing him as a centre, a process that has been rather painful to watch. As many have pointed out, the Flames have Sam Bennett waiting in the wings to become a centre, perhaps it is time they simply swapped spots.
What do you think? Should Granlund be moved to the wing? Moved to Stockton to continue to develop as a centre in the AHL? Used as an extra forward? Traded? Let me know what you would do.