Of all the players acquired during Jim Benning’s tenure as general manager, it’s hard to think of a player more polarizing than Markus Granlund. The trade that brought him to Vancouver saw former first round pick and top prospect Hunter Shinkaruk headed to one of the team’s top rivals in Calgary, and Canucks fans have been divided on his value ever since. Supporters of Granlund will point to his latest season as evidence that the young forward is a bonafide NHL regular. After all, he was trusted by former head coach Willie Desjardins in a top six role for most of the season, and finished just one goal shy of 20 in 69 games.
Granlund’s detractors, on the other hand, see his spike in production as a mirage due to his playing time. We’ll take a look at a couple of these points and try to determine how much of Granlund’s success was because of factors outside of his control, and what could translate into more production in the coming years. With his contract expiring next off-season – at which point he’ll surely be looking for a sizeable raise – should the Canucks tread carefully, or look to lock him up long-term?
Figuring Out What the Canucks Have in Markus Granlund
When a player sets a career high in goals, it’s never a bad idea to take a look at their shooting percentage and on-ice shooting percentage. This can provide some information on how much of the player’s scoring success over the season was due to luck. Granlund’s player page over on NHL.com shows us his shooting percentage last season was rather high at 15.6%.
According to QuantHockey, the average shooting percentage over the entire league last season was roughly 9%. This tells us that Granlund saw a considerably higher number of his shots find the back of the net than the average player. Does this mean Granlund is high-end sniper in the mould of a Steven Stamkos, whose shooting percentage has hovered around the 16% mark over the last three seasons, or was this a case of a player who benefited from a few more lucky bounces than usual over the course of the year? Let’s take a look at his shooting percentages in previous years.
Two seasons totalling just under 100 games isn’t a great sample size to work with, but based on what we have, it seems Granlund has been somewhere between an average to a slightly above-average shooter to date. There’s no guarantee that Granlund’s shooting percentage will fall back in line with the league average next year, but this tells us to be skeptical that he’ll continue scoring at this rate in the future.
The other shooting-related statistic worth looking into is on-ice shooting percentage. For anyone unfamiliar with on-ice shooting percentage, it’s very similar to plain shooting percentage with one caveat: rather than focusing on the player-in-question’s shooting percentage alone, it takes the player’s linemates into consideration as well. In other words, looking at Granlund’s on-ice shooting percentage will tell us how often both him and his linemates converted on their shots. Not only does this provide us with a larger sample of shots to work with, but it also offers us a better look into whether Granlund’s linemates were scoring at a higher rate than expected.
The NHL’s “Enhanced Statistics” section shows us that his 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage for the year was 7.1%. Fortunately for Granlund, this is very close to the league average (generally around 7.5%). There’s really no reason to believe that his point totals are unsustainable as long as he continues to get the same amount of ice-time as he did this past season. That’s not to say that he’s guaranteed to be on pace for around 40 points again next season – he could just as easily run into good or bad luck over the course of the year and have his production skew either way – but it does seem fair to say that this production level is close to his true talent.
Granlund was one of the forwards coach Willie Desjardins relied on heavily last season; a fact clearly reflected by his ice-time. Granlund’s 17:18 TOI/game was the 106th highest of any forward, making him one of the more frequently played second liners in the league (1st – 90th being first liners as each of the 30 NHL teams has three, and so on). This is enough to put him among some pretty talented players; namely: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marian Hossa, Mitch Marner, and Viktor Arvidsson, among others. On top of this, Granlund’s TOI at even strength was the 46th highest of any forward, ahead of players like Evgeni Malkin, Brad Marchand, and Nikolaj Ehlers.
It was decided to take the even strength TOI and points of the players closest to Granlund in terms of ice-time, and compare how much ice-time each player needed per point. The idea here is to see whether Granlund was producing at the same level as some of the other players around the league getting similar ice-time.
Unsurprisingly, Granlund shows very poorly here. He needs roughly twice as much ice-time to score the same amount as some of the higher end players in this bucket, and still considerably longer than the lower end players. However, even some of Granlund’s strongest supporters wouldn’t dare compare him to the players on this list. Let’s try moving away from ice-time comparables and start looking at some bottom six forwards to see if Granlund fares any better.
This is starting to look better. Unfortunately for Granlund, being compared to a group of third liners isn’t a compliment when you’re getting second line ice-time – and first line ice-time at even strength. It should be pretty clear here that Granlund has been getting far more ice-time than he deserves, and based on some of his comparables, he should be somewhere around 12 even strength minutes per game. Naturally, this would hurt his production a fair bit.
If it takes Granlund over 17 minutes per game to produce like a low-end second liner, what sort of production would you get out of him at 12 to 14 minutes per game? Unfortunately, it’s hard to know for sure until we actually see him playing those minutes. All we can say for certain is that he’s in over his head in his current role, and calling him a top six forward seems premature until he can actually score at that level with reasonable playing time.
What should the expectation be for Markus Granlund going forward? Should we expect Granlund to flirt with 20 goals next season? Probably not, unless he spends most of the year playing on the first line. 40 points may be a realistic target, although it still wouldn’t be enough to justify the kind of ice-time he would be getting at even strength to produce those numbers.
It’s no fault of Granlund’s that he’s unable to produce at an appropriate level for the ice-time he’s getting. This is simply an issue of the Canucks not having the personnel to fill an effective NHL top six. On most teams around the league, Granlund is the kind of player that bounces between different lines and likely only sees extended top six time due to injury. For this reason, it’s important that the Canucks avoid falling into the trap of thinking that Granlund is on track to become a legitimate top six forward simply because he’s been thrust into that role for the team.
There’s no question that if Jim Benning is still employed by the end of the season, Markus Granlund will be getting another contract. If Granlund manages to hit the 40-point mark under similar circumstances, odds are he’ll be looking for a considerable pay raise going forward. Unless the Canucks can convince him to take a cheap, short-term deal, they’d be wise to move on.