Acquired from the Minnesota Wild on the trade deadline, Mikael Granlund was expected to be a stable, effective presence on the Nashville Predators’ second line. In his 16 games with the Nashville Predators, how effective was Mikael Granlund?
In grading any player’s season, it is crucial that there is an understanding of how we are evaluating him. Similar to how I evaluated Dante Fabbro’s season, there are five pieces of critera that will be used to determine Mikael Granlund’s grade: development, decision making, footwork, positioning, and offense.
In grading his development, the main consideration is going to be how far Granlund has come over the past season. Arriving near the trade deadline in exchange for Kevin Fiala, Granlund did not experience a full season with the Predators. How well did he transition between clubs? How close was he to meeting what expectations were set forth for him?
For decision making, the focus is going to be on how well Granlund can see the ice. Does he make the right passes? Does he abandon the offensive zone at the right moment or pinch too hard? Is Granlund in the correct position in the defensive zone?
Positioning relates a little to both decision making and offense, but primarily we are looking at what spots on the ice Granlund sees and maybe fails to see. Is he taking advantage of open ice? Is he failing to mark his defenders?
Footwork is an easy and much more technical element to grade, partially because it manifests itself so clearly in a player’s overall game. Proper use of edges and a quick first three strides are going to directly impact a player’s speed and acceleration.
Finally, there is offense. Rather than just creating a “shooting” category that would unfairly punish a defender’s grade, this category is going to evaluate Mikael Granlund’s offensive instincts. Does he jump into play at the right moments? How helpful is he when joining the rush?
With our criteria set, let’s jump into our first category.
Mikael Granlund began this season playing for the Minnesota Wild, coming hot off his second consecutive season posting at least 67 points. The 25-year-old would have been the Predators’ leading scorer that previous 2017-18 season, finishing with three points more than Filip Forsberg.
Prior to his trade to the Nashville Predators, Granlund had 49 points in 63 games for the Wild. Compared to his previous 67 points in 77 games, he was scoring 0.10 fewer points per game (0.77 compared to 0.87). Considering the major dropoff in linemate Eric Staal’s production, dropping only a tenth of a point per game still indicates that Granlund was having a great season. He was on track to finish an 82-game season with 63 points with the Minnesota Wild.
However, once traded to the Nashville Predators, Granlund’s production came to a screeching halt. Part of that was going from being integral to the Wild’s tenth-ranked power play to being on the Predators’ embarassment of a power play. Nonetheless, he only scored five points in 16 games, fewer than one point every three games. That’s a significant drop from his 0.77 points per game in Minnesota.
So what went wrong with Mikael Granlund in Nashville? People were cautiously optimistic about him being an improvement over Kevin Fiala, while those who wanted Fiala’s head on a stake were ecstatic about the deal. By everyone’s standards, Granlund looked like a failed addition to the Predators.
There are a number of reasons for Granlund’s disappointing time with the Predators. First, there seems to be a great misconception that players acclimate quickly to trades. Kyle Turris set an impossible standard when he joined the Predators and immediately exploded on a line with Fiala and Craig Smith. Typically, big trades right by the deadline end up disappointing because not only do players have to learn a new system, but the systems they have to learn are tailored for whoever they are replacing, not themselves.
Second, the Predators suffer from a lack of variety in their roster. Already full of two-way wingers that play a solid but rarely dynamic game, Granlund did not offer any new strategic advantage nor have a special niche in which he could succeed. That may seem like an oxymoron given the first point, but one has to remember that he replaced Kevin Fiala, perhaps the one top-six winger who did not fit that same bill as the others.
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, which also ties into the final point that there was simply no chemistry between Granlund and his teammates. Kyle Turris was up and down the lineup, Nick Bonino centered Granlund for a while, and his opposite wingers were constatnly shuffling. Coming into this season, it is hard to wager if he even has any chemisty with Smith because there is simply no evidence or proper sample size. By the same token, it is also unknown if he does not have chemistry with Smith, for the same reasons. Granlund is a massive question mark coming into this season and, while some people have him penciled in with Smith on the second line, there is no certainty that pairing him with Smith will actually work.
Similar to Dante Fabbro’s report card, it is challenging to grade Granlund’s decision making because of his transition into a new system and constantly shuffled linemates. How is a player supposed to make consistent informed hockey decisions when that information is constantly changing? When opponents are transitioning through the neutral zone, it makes a huge difference if your center has the speed of Kyle Turris or only that of Nick Bonino. Different decisions have to be made as a winger in attempting to decipher whom one needs to be covering, and much of that comes from familiarity that Granlund did not have an opportunity to develop.
Granlund is extremely confident in his abilities, leading him to take up positions where he can take risks with great potential payoff. The pass above is by every account incredibly risky, but he has such great hands that he is able to make that risky decision and execute it with ease. If that pass gets picked off, it’s a horrible play. Nonetheless, Granlund threads the needle.
Another interesting topic. Granlund never seemed to make mistakes in the Predators’ own zone. Looking back through goals scored against the Predators when he was on the ice, none of them seemed to be egregiously his fault.
Still, Granlund finished a -6 during his 16 regular season games with the Predators and never looked rock steady. Considering that he finished 13th in Selke Trophy voting a few seasons ago, it makes one scratch their head as to why he’s not performing better in his own zone. All things considered, I thought his decision making was not great, but not bad either.
Granlund has good explosiveness, decent edge work, and excellent balance. He’s pretty tough to knock over because of how low he gets when he skates. Keeping that low center of gravity while maintaining his solid edge work, Granlund is tough to hit despite not being the biggest frame on the ice.
As for his stride, it’s perfectly fine with nothing of major note. He transitions smoothly, has average acceleration, but actually can hit pretty high top speeds given time and space. Check out this goal below against the LA Kings.
Granlund’s first three strides out of transition are nothing spectacular, but he keeps building speed and absolutely blows by Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. Then, with his balance and low center of gravity, he’s able to stay on his feet as he stickhandles past the defense to eventually score a phenomenal goal.
Granlund loves putting the puck on net but, with the Predators, his shot rate declined dramatically. In his 16 games with the Predators, Granlund only put 29 shots on net. With Minnesota, he put 160 shots on net in 63 games. Yikes.
Earlier under development we talked about how challenging it has been for Mikael Granlund to transition from Minnesota to Nashville; the area in which Granlund was hurt the most was in his offense. Granlund’s offensive production in Nashville was a far cry from what it was in Minnesota. In Nashville’s system with constantly changing linemates, Granlund’s playing style that made him so effective was completely lost in the shuffle.
Let’s be perfectly clear: Mikael Granlund is a very, very good NHL player. However, Granlund has been put in a situation that was not made for him to succeed, and he has not made enough of an impact as a Nashville Predator.
Final Grade: C-
It is unfair to Mikael Granlund to rip him to shreds for his time as a Nashville Predator because there were so many factors put upon him with which nearly no player would succeed. Between the different systems, constantly shuffling linemates, and the completely inept power play coaching, there was nearly no way that Granlund was going to make the impact that people expected. As we predicted on our trade deadline show, Granlund was never going to solve the issues that already plagued the Predators; he would just be another victim of them.