Derek Grant was the afterthought of July 1, 2015. The Flames had re-signed Karri Ramo and had brought Michael Frolik into the fold on one of the bigger contracts of the day; why spend too much time thinking about a guy who looked to be a 25-year-old AHL lifer? He’d be great depth for Stockton, but probably not much else.
Flash forward throughout the season, and Grant seems to have taken another step. Depth for Stockton? Try arguably one of the better players in the entire AHL, and maybe even someone who might be a reliable depth NHL player one day.
Grant started his season in the AHL, but early injuries saw him called up to the Flames on Oct. 24. He was occasionally healthy scratched, but ultimately played nine games for the Flames in his first go-around: the exact number he needed in order to once again be sent back down without needing waivers, even though he was starting to look like he belonged.
In those first nine games, Grant played limited minutes and was held pointless, but did accrue 10 shots on net.
He returned to Stockton in mid-November, and that’s when he started destroying the AHL. Over 36 total games, he scored 45 points; had he not suffered a broken jaw in a practice in early February – right after he was named the AHL’s Player of the Month in January, and was the Heat’s lone representative at the AHL All-Star Game – he almost certainly would have been Stockton’s leading scorer. Alas, he’d have to settle for second as Kenny Agostino scored 12 more points in 29 more games, though nobody topped Grant’s 27 goals.
Healed well enough to play again, Grant came back up to the Flames when he was recalled on March 28. He finished his season in the NHL, playing another six games. He registered his first point as a Flame – an assist – and took 12 shots on net as his ice time rose to consistently be above 10 minutes a game.
Grant became a much improved player over the course of this past season. He rose to over a point per game for the first time since playing in the BCHL (though he came close in a couple of seasons at Michigan State University); his previous career high in the AHL had been 38 points in 73 games from just the season before.
Impact on team
So, here’s a thing Grant did a lot: get the puck on net.
He registered just over a shot per game in his first call-up stint with the Flames; in his second, he was a two shots per game player. In the AHL, though, he had 165 total shots on net: 4.6 per game. He was the third most frequent shooter on the Heat, and that’s with playing nearly half a season less than everyone else. Hell, he would have been one of the top shooters on literally every team in the AHL this past season, even with the substantially fewer games he played than most others.
There was a period of time before his injury when Grant was the Stockton Heat. Had he maintained his scoring pace, he would have been the AHL’s leading scorer with 85 points, and 312 shots on net. Granted, he missed roughly half the season and it’s a lot to expect anyone to keep up that pace, but those would be some staggering numbers no matter what.
Which brings us to his time in the NHL.
Top left has players in most difficult circumstances: more defensive zone starts and tougher competition. Bottom right has players in easiest circumstances: a lot of offensive zone starts and weak competition. The bigger a player’s circle, the more he plays. The bluer, the greater his possession relative to his teammates; the redder, the worse. Click on image for full-sized chart from Corsica.
Grant had the fourth worst zone starts out of those who played semi-regularly on the Flames. His 46.04% 5v5 CF – ninth worst on the Flames – wasn’t anything to write home about, but consider: not only was he better than the three players who had worse starts than him, but the puck went against him less than it did for Kris Russell, Markus Granlund, Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland, and Lance Bouma, too.
Grant actually played roughly the same level of competition as Stajan, Engelland, Bouma, Wideman, and Granlund, and in his limited showing, he looked potentially better than all of them. Is there any reason he can’t, at absolute worst, be among the Flames’ bottom six? Who would be better to have in general: Bollig or Grant?
What comes next?
Grant is an upcoming Group 6 UFA. He needs a new contract, and the Flames should give him one.
The Flames really liked Grant when they picked him up, but I’m not sure even they knew just what they had on their hands. Grant easily had the best season of his entire career, leaps and bounds over his previous efforts. He could very well be ready to take that next step and transition into a regular NHLer.
He’s 26 years old, so he might be something of a late bloomer. That, or it’s entirely possible this past season was just a fluke. But Grant definitely deserves the opportunity to prove he can do it again – and if he gets that chance with the Flames, he forms one part of a low-cost, but effective, bottom six.