Early Sunday morning, the University of North Dakota’s (UND) 2020-21 season came to a crushing end with a loss to the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) in the game’s fifth overtime. After more than 142 minutes of hockey, the top-seeded Fighting Hawks’ championship hopes were over—as was Grant Mismash’s senior season at UND.
Mismash—drafted 61st overall by the Nashville Predators in 2017—will now leave school able to sign an entry-level contract with Nashville any time or with a team of his choosing after August 15, 2021.
I expect Nashville will sign Mismash to his entry-level contract (ELC), so what is the organization getting in their former second-round pick?
First, I’ll note that Mismash was sidelined from January 30 to February 12 with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He returned to the Fighting Hawks’ lineup for their opening round game against American International on Friday but exited once again on Saturday versus UMD in the second period with an apparent ankle injury. The senior forward made a brief return to the game but once again exited in the third period with an injury.
I’ll also add that Nashville is without a luxury that they normally have this time of year. For a player like Mismash, we’d likely see him sign an ELC that begins next season and then sign a professional tryout (PTO) with Milwaukee for the remainder of the 2020-21 season. With the Admirals not playing and a crowded locker room in Chicago, the latter likely won’t come to fruition, but Mismash may be occupied with injury recovery regardless.
In his draft year, Mismash impressed on a loaded U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) team that featured Josh Norris, Quinn Hughes, Brady Tkachuk, Joel Farabee, and Oliver Wahlstrom. In 65 games that season, he was second on the team in goals (26) and tied for first in points (61); He also was second on Team USA in scoring at the U18 World Junior Championship (WJC) with eight points in seven games.
After his NHL Entry Draft selection in 2017, Mismash finished his first year at UND tied for 36th in freshmen scoring nationwide with nine goals and 22 points in 38 games. His rough-and-tumble style complemented by a nice scoring touch seemed perfect for college hockey.
Mismash suffered a massive setback in his sophomore year, recording just ten points in 24 games and dealing with a knee injury that sidelined him for nearly three months. Last season, he bounced back, hitting 20 points again while playing 35 games on UND’s top line with Collin Adams (NYI) and Jordan Kawaguchi.
This year was easily Mismash’s best despite more injury troubles. In 20 games, he hit the double-digit goal mark (10) and recorded 19 points, including 11 primary ones scored at even strength. While shooting 18.9%, Mismash recorded a primary point on 68.8% of UND’s even-strength goals scored while he was on the ice.
Mismash has long been a solid shot contributor in his time at UND, and this season, that continued. While he did shoot over 18% in all situations, he took 13.67 shot attempts per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time in the eight games I tracked this season; 6.27 of those attempts per 60 were from high-danger areas.
Unsurprisingly, Mismash is a strong positive possession player. UND’s top line is dominant in most games, helping Mismash record a 55.62% Corsi rating at even-strength this season. Overall, UND took 53.55 shot attempts per 60 minutes while Mismash was on the ice, meaning the senior forward recorded 25.5% of shot attempts he was on the ice for.
In transition, Mismash is a relatively balanced player but does rely on dump-ins often (which I’ll touch on later). This season, he exited the defensive zone with possession at a 60.0% success rate and entered the offensive zone with possession at a 59.1% success rate.
Grant Mismash’s game is highlighted by a constant physical presence in all three zones. During his time at UND, he’s complemented the skill of his linemates well in chasing down pucks and using his body to win possession battles. Fundamentally, however, what I think will hold him back the most at the next level is his skating.
In this clip, notice how Mismash (#16, white) chases down the puck into the offensive zone, adjusting his direction as the St. Cloud State defender begins to make a play. He takes an excellent angle to his opponent, forcing him to double back, and then finishes his check (as he’s always prone to do). But Mismash’s dead-stop acceleration is lacking, and his mechanics don’t benefit him with above-average foot speed. As a result, he chases the rest of the play and reacts to puck movement with wide turns or late stops and starts.
In transition, Mismash is a solid puck handler who moves with his head up and has a nice touch of skill. I mentioned above how he relies on dump-ins a lot; I noticed many shifts this season where he was stagnant, waiting in the neutral zone for a breakout pass, and his slower acceleration speed would let defenders pinch before he could carry the puck in the zone.
In this case, he makes the smart play, but I also think he can maximize his puck retrieval skills with better reads on the forecheck. Here, instead of trying to sneak behind the defender with a stick lift, Mismash should adjust his angle to the other side of the defender’s body, using his body to seal off the defender’s hands on the wall and force him into a turnover.
Mismash does have a good skill set with the puck, including an underrated passing ability and good on-ice awareness. Notice his timely pass to Jordan Kawaguchi here to spring a high-danger opportunity and goal.
At his best, Mismash can be a force who drives to the net and makes defenders commit to trying to close a certain passing or shooting lane. In the play above, he leads an offensive zone rush with a nice drop pass, reading that UND has an odd-man rush developing. Mismash then heads to open ice, trusting the defender will chase the cross-ice pass, and finds himself open on the back door for an easy goal.
Other times, Mismash lacks pace to his game when the puck is on his stick. He takes advantage of defensive mismatches at the college level that won’t exist in the AHL and NHL. For example, in the clip above, he doesn’t take a single stride after entering the zone with the puck; Instead, Mismash alerts the defender that he’s looking to pass the entire time, letting the Denver skater read the play masterfully. Here is where I’d like to see Mismash use his size and drive hard to the net, force the defender to close his gap, and open up his teammate at the back door.
Mismash also has solid shooting talent and quick release. His wrist shot isn’t anything elite, but he uses screens well and can deceive goalies with his release from various points in the offensive zone.
On defense, Mismash’s skating concerns me once again. There are too many stops and starts to his game, and he’s too reactive to puck movements instead of proactive. As a result, he’s often chasing the puck or his assignments in the defensive zone, but his average to below-average accelerating speed does him no favors in catching up.
Ultimately, I think Mismash can be a good AHL player in his career, and he’s certainly worthy of an entry-level contract to prove himself. But I don’t know how much he can improve his footspeed to match NHL competition, and some of the habits he’s developed in college concern me. While it may be disappointing for a former second-round pick, I think Mismash will hit his ceiling as a top-six option in Milwaukee.