Continuing with my profile series of prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, we move over to Sweden in the SHL and SuperElit junior league. Profiled below is Malmo defender Helge Grans, whose draft stock has steadily impressed as he saw significant action in the Swedish elite league this season.
As always, the previous installments in this series can be found at the link above. Additionally, expect the first edition of my 2020 NHL Entry Draft rankings out in the next week; I’ll be tackling just the first 31 picks with the list expanding over the next few months.
Helge Grans - D
Malmo Redhawks J20 [SuperElit] - 17 - Ljungby, Sweden
Grans has become somewhat of a rising star in Swedish hockey as the search for this draft class’s second best defender (behind Jamie Drysdale) has heated up. From his own country alone, Grans is contested by William Wallinder and Emil Andrae; if you did a quick Twitter search of either of them, you would instantly find a range of opinions.
I’m not ready to declare Grans the second-best defender in this class, but he’s certainly up there for me and a likely first-round pick in the 20s. Grans has come up in the Malmo system in Sweden, scoring 17 points in 34 SuperElit games (a U20 league) as a 16-year old in 2018-19. He also earned five appearances in the SHL and was a defensive star for Sweden’s U17 team internationally.
In 2019-20, Grans improved his SuperElit scoring rate to a point-per-game pace (four goals, 27 points) and recorded three total points in 21 games in the SHL. He was third among all SuperElit defenders in points per game and third among all first-year eligible defenders in primary points per game (0.5185).
Some viewings have caused hesitation towards Grans as the year has gone one; for instance, his Hlinka-Gretzky Cup play for Sweden was largely unremarkable. Conversely, he was just one of four draft-eligible skaters (and the only defender) to skate significant time in the SHL this season at just 17 years old.
Grans’ Scouting Report
|Excellent transition player with a preference for carrying the puck out on his own stick||Maintains good edge control but there are some technical knocks to his skating|
|Good, controlled shot from the point and can contribute off the rush||Sometimes likes to lunge too much defensively or mistimes his positioning|
|Has a unique set of hands and puck skills for someone of his size and stature||Is prone to turnovers and ill-advised passes out of the defensive zone|
I think there is a temptation for many talent assessors to be high on Grans due to his unique puck skills which come packaged in a 6’3” frame. Add to that that he is a right-shot defender, and you’ve got a prospect that some general managers salivate over. He is an interesting player in that after each viewing, I consistently thought there was something just off about his game, despite being impressed by many of the little things he does each shift.
Maybe the most important thing to note about Grans’s (#54 in white) style of play is his transition ability. The clip above comes on the power play, but Södertalje is employing an aggressive forecheck. Grans is typically patient with the puck as he plots his zone exits and often leads the puck out himself (as seen above) or makes his first pass near or shortly after the blue line.
He comes with quietly impressive hands that, when used correctly, can paralyze forecheckers and catalyze a rapid zone exit. In this clip, notice Grans (#54 in red) quickly evading one then two opponents while maintaining his up-ice vision that leads to a quick pass out of the zone. His ability to keep pace with the rush up the ice ends in a high-slot shot attempt and assist on a high-danger one, too.
In this clip, I love how Grans leads his opponent, who is attempting to cut off any passing lane towards the boards. This lets the Vaxjo skater relax his angle and Grans pushes a nifty pass to a teammate under the opponent’s stick. Even better, Grans joins the rush as the net-crashing forward before cycling back to the point for better puck support.
Here is another example of Grans leading that opponent into relaxing his attack angle and springing a teammate forward with three opponents already behind the play. Grans can be a master at pinching the forecheck zone in neutral ice, opening up his teammates for better rushes.
One obvious note about Grans is how well he skates looking up. I watch tons of prospects who are great transition skaters but are constantly staring at the ice; Grans, in all three zones, is constantly surveying the area in front of him. It’s an impressive level of awareness that allows for accurate stretch passes, as seen in this clip above.
Outside of his skating, the most frequent critique of Grans is his decision-making. You may watch him in one sitting and see a confident puck mover and in the next, you’d see a turnover-prone talent. For all his skill, he’s not a rapid accelerator and can get caught pushing the puck too much leading to turnovers like the one above.
In another example, Grans makes a nice move around a forechecking opponent to begin a zone exit but then just hands the puck over on an ill-advised pass attempt.
In this clip, Grans misses on a pass under a slight amount of pressure behind his net. He does a decent job to recover and pin the cycle into the corner, and, after a hiccup or two more, comes out with a tight turn around his net and an unscathed pass out of the zone.
Before his transition steps, I think Grans is a solid defensive player. I like how purposeful he is with his stick positioning and is often cognizant of passing lanes neglected by his teammates covering them with his long reach or, as mentioned before, his holistic awareness.
I like this play above that demonstrates how effortlessly Grans can execute a zone exit with his skating and puck-moving ability. As his opponents come down the wall, he makes a good decision to breakup the cycle and rapidly transitions into an up-ice push with his sound edges and vision.
He’s a skater who lacks explosiveness but has plenty of leg strength to cover both ends of the ice well and get back into position after joining or leading a rush. Offensively, he likes to patrol a bit deeper in the zone then some and capitalizes on chances like the one above with a fairly accurate shot.
This power play shift demonstrates Grans’ preference to his wrist shot, ability to maneuver under pressure and to keep his shots accurate and manageable for rebounds.
There are certainly elements to his game that are unpolished, but Grans has produced rare numbers for his age at the U20 level, comes with significant professional experience, and has no seemingly permanent flaws to his game.
Expected Pick Range
Colin Cudmore (@CudmoreColin) over at silversevensens.com has done remarkable work compiling draft rankings and establishing an ‘Expected Pick Range’ from a variety of different sources. You can read about his methodology here, track the compiled rankings here, and use his data viz (embedded below) here.
Grans’s Expected Pick Range: #27 to #75 — 1st Round to 3rd Round
As is often the case as the year goes on, Grans’s expected pick range has expanded as Colin adds more rankings to his compilation. To me, there’s no question that Grans is a first-round talent, but I understand concerns about his skating and decision-making.