Markus Granlund a Swiss Army Knife in the Canucks Middle Six

Updated: December 19, 2016 at 12:50 pm by J.D. Burke


Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin – USA TODAY Sports

When the Canucks acquired Markus Granlund at last year’s trade deadline, it was his well-rounded defensive game that caught their eye. A season later he’s grabbing everyone’s attention with crafty setups like the one that levelled the score in Friday’s contest with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That assist was Granlund’s 13th point in his 31st game of the season. Prorated over a full season, that’s a 35 point pace. In today’s NHL, that’s second line production.

Granlund’s been an everything man for the Canucks. He’s produced consistently on a line marred by moving parts and restoration projects. That versatility is something Granlund’s cognizant of; something he takes a great deal of pride in bringing to the lineup.

“Yeah, I think when you’re a young player you have to be good defensively.” Granlund told Canucks Army. “That’s part of my game, of course. I try to be good defensively, and I’m trying to be good offensively too.”

A cursory glance at Granlund’s underlying shot-based metrics reveals a strong net positive presence in the Canucks lineup. Among active Canucks skaters with 100-plus minutes, Granlund’s 49.5% score and venue adjusted Corsi ranks second.

It’s not Granlund’s defensive play that’s driving these results, though. The calming effect we’d generally associate with Granlund’s pedigree hasn’t yet taken hold. Not this season. Only Loui Eriksson is averaging a higher Corsi event rate at even strength than Granlund.

Based on a conversation I had this weekend with an NHL scout, that’s always been a present element in Granlund’s skill set. It was just a matter of time before he showcased as much. 

“Based on his play in international tournaments and then his progression and development in the AHL he provided enough evidence for me to think both his offensive and defence attributes could translate into the NHL once he turned 23-24 age range”

Those comments hold weight under further scrutiny. Granlund produced at nearly a point per game pace in the AHL, with 75 points in 82 career games in the Calgary Flames system. The EliteProspects database shows 78 points in 61 International Junior contests, too.

Granlund echoed those sentiments, adding “when I was a kid and played juniors, I played on top lines. I believe that’s a part of my game — to score goals, and be good offensively. I know I can do that. That’s my game.

At first glance, Granlund’s paltry 1.02 P/60 might belie the progress he’s making towards that end. The Canucks have an expected goals rate of nearly three an hour with Granlund on the ice, trumped only by Jannik Hansen. I’d expect once Granlund’s luck improves (third worst PDO on the team) that much will reflect itself in his production not long after.

And whether the Canucks can afford to wait for as much or not, Willie Desjardins deserves his share of credit for not succumbing to the pressure those percentages might thrust upon him as a coach in a results-based industry. That kind of trust is exactly what Granlund pointed to as a driving influence in his resurgence in Vancouver.

“Of course, when coaches trust you — that’s the biggest thing. Helps you gain confidence.” Granlund exclaimed. “It’s been good for me here. I like the system over here, and it’s pretty fun.”

Granlund’s most frequent linemate, Eriksson, offered an explanation as to why the coaches might be so trusting of their Finnish pivot. “Granlund’s been doing a good job. He’s a pretty smart player out there. He thinks the game the right way.” Eriksson told Canucks Army. “Granlund can make some good passes out there. You saw that the other night — that pass to Sutter was pretty nice.”

Something tells me Granlund has a few more of those in his future. And while he’s making it easy for his teammates to contribute, his play is quickly forcing the Canucks into an expansion predicament further down the road. Then again, I’m almost certain they’re willing to suffer it if this production continues.