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Hockey Analytics

Granlund Running Wild

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

A Saturday night hat trick against the Vancouver Canucks (his first) and second star of the week honors for Minnesota Wild’s Mikael Granlund, in a 2016-17 breakout campaign expected during two injury-derailing seasons.

 

Let’s start with this tweet from Minnesota beat reporter Michael Russo, because it’s very important to establish just how potent the Minnesota Wild’s offense has been over that stretch, powered by the trio of Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker since early December.

 

In 27 games since Dec. 7, #mnwild's Mikael Granlund leads the NHL with 34 points

— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) February 6, 2017

 

 

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I’ve waited for the breakout offense from the Wild’s pivot – in a healthy season. He stumbled in 2015-16 along with a sputtering Minnesota offense, and incoming coach Boudreau suggested a move to the wing before the season began.

 

From the McKeen’s Hockey Yearbook, this is the excerpt on Granlund.

 

15-16 Report/16-17 Outlook: The biggest issue facing the fragile Finn was health, having missed significant time in the previous two seasons, so playing his first full schedule season was the good news .. posted career high points as a result but his scoring pace was off his previous two seasons (1.34 P/60 – a third line pace) .. went through a 34 game span with one goal through mid-season then put up nine goals in the final 29 games (29-9-9-18 with a 12.65% Sh%) .. scored his first of two 5v4 goals in Game 65 – his second, four games later – finishing seventh is scoring (11 pts) despite the fourth most power play time a game (2:34) .. put up 12 points in 10 games in the IIHF World Championships for Finland .. time at center ice may be over with a move to the wing being suggested by Boudreau ..

 

With 15 goals including the hat trick, he established career highs and avoided the prolonged 34 game streak without a goal.

 

Boudreau made good on his suggestion to move the Finn from the middle to the wing, but he couldn’t have done it simply by making the switch. He needed a replacement.

 

Alec Schmidt from Hockey Wilderness hits an important point, how Eric Staal impacted the move from the middle to the flank.

 

@KatsHockey finally moved him to wing as "the bloggers" begged Yeo to do for years. Staal acquisition made that an easy move for BB.

— Alec Schmidt (@Schmitty_16) February 5, 2017

 

 

Since breaking a four-game pointless funk, his longest of the season, he’s amassed an incredible, 34 points, (10-24-34), doubling his five goals he’d scored to then. His most consistent linemate has been Mikko Koivu and a spare part to complete the line, but at the 18 game mark, Jason Zucker became the permanent fixture on that unit. Zucker sports a 3.28 Pts/60 at 5v5, tops among Wild forwards, contributing a point on 74% of all on-ice goals. He leads the Wild in 5v5 points and has added some scoring punch to that line. Granlund’s 2.3 Pts/60 at 5v5 is by far a career high.

 

At 5v4. Granlund has point on 75% of goals scored – tied for team lead with Eric Staal. He leads the Wild in Pts/60 (6.86 – good enough to rank among top 10 NHL forwards, with minimum of 100 minutes). Still, not much of a shooter, he’s firing a team low, 5.15 shots/60.

 

The trio of Zucker, Granlund and Mikko Koivu play the heavy minutes against the opposition’s best at even strength. A cross section of the most ice time against opponents includes some extraordinary names, but moderate success based exclusively on shot metrics. Collectively against this dozen of opponents, he ends up averaging 49.47 CF% slightly better than the 48.64% when not against them.

 

View post on imgur.com

 

 

Moving the diminutive Finn from the middle to wing has many benefits. In 2015-16, he was flanked by Zach Parise and the slumping Jason Pominville as a center. Removing the center’s responsibilities in the defensive zone, there are more benefits to being a winger that complement Granlund’s skill set.

 

Defensive zone positioning is a factor of availability on the backcheck. Traditional C, LW, RW are replaced with an F1, F2, F3 with players falling into gaps when their regular assignments are manned by a linemate. Then there’s a switch at some point, unless there’s a successful turnover – or scoring chance against. One element to spot about a player is the method they use to switch up assignments, should coaching staff desire switching to traditional responsibility once the defensive zone setup is set. That switch alone is a very good indicator of how well players are able to read and react to their roles. Smart players will set up in a support role. Less developed players will try to assume normal positioning, leaving vulnerable exposure on the areas they should be covering.

 

As a winger, defensive zone responsibility is at the top of the zone, with some teams dropping down low depending on the use of a swarm (smothering defense) and outnumbered situations. Wingers can escape the zone and head up the play, or cheat into the neutral zone to force defensive pairing to abandon the line and take up proper defensive positions. Speedy wingers enhance pucks cleared into the neutral zone off a scramble or high off the glass and create 50/50 battles with defenders on their heels instead of ready to defend.

 

Granlund’s shooting heat map via hockeyviz.com at 5v5 (and even similarly at 5v4, highlights purposeful attention to the net front and slot area factoring into career highs in goals in a little over half a season. Even as a winger, he’s getting to the front of the net for scoring chances.

 

Still, his playmaking is instrumental in eventual setups for shots on goal. The limited aspect of two assists for a goal doesn’t capture the back-story, i.e the work performed to potentially set up that scoring opportunity. Data from the passing project can definitely have an effect here. In 2016-17 the Finn sits among league leaders in generating the third pass (A3/per 60) prior to a shot event, albeit in a very small sample size. I’ve added the time on ice as an indication of just how much has been tracked. We can’t draw hefty conclusions from this small sample.

 

However, aside from Florida’s Denis Malgin, the company amongst leaders is impressive. These are all essential players at making the plays that don’t end up on the scoresheet, but are integral to the process.

 

Season

Team

Position

Player

TOI

A3/60

2016 - 2017

WSH

F

Nicklas Backstrom

91.14

3.95

2016 - 2017

TB

F

Steven Stamkos

143.91

3.75

2016 - 2017

VAN

F

Henrik Sedin

112.55

3.20

2016 - 2017

FLA

F

Denis Malgin

92.66

2.59

2016 - 2017

MIN

F

Mikael Granlund

120.31

2.49

 

Year over year Granlund’s production has been well over average, but with the smaller sample in the current season, there’s a slight decrease in the metric (exacerbated by the small sample), ranking 37th overall among forwards. Could this be indicative of a more hands on element to scoring chance generation?

 

Season

Rnk

Position

Player

TOI

A3/60

NHL Avg

2016 - 2017

5th

F

Mikael Granlund

120.31

2.494

0.96

2015 - 2016

37th

F

Mikael Granlund

386.68

2.95

1.77

 

 

The Finn is well on his way to career highs among raw counting numbers and per 60 shot metrics. Maybe the most exciting aspect this season is the potential of a first 20-goal season.

 

 

 

 

 

Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey