Ontario Reign: Previewing Helge Grans’ 2021-22 Season
From Malmo to California, Helge Grans looking to make an impact for the Ontario Reign as one of the LA Kings’ top young defense prospects.
A name that has started to generate a lot of buzz among LA Kings fans this summer is Swedish defenseman Helge Grans.
In the same draft that the Kings selected center Quinton Byfield, they were able to land the 6-foot-3 Grans in what could end up being a second-round steal for LA:
In 30 years, there have only been 16 dmen that profiled like this going into the draft (6'2'' or taller, same equivalency grouping, younger draftee). 69% of them were chosen in the first round. Grans, of course, slipped to the 2nd round in the deep 2020 draft. pic.twitter.com/LeSHtGpDdM
— Byron Bader (@ByronMBader) November 3, 2020
The 19-year-old joins a plethora of right-shot defensemen in the Kings’ organization but make no mistake: his ceiling is among the highest.
To date, Grans has spent his entire career in Sweden, breaking into the J20 SuperElit with Malmo as a 16-year-old in the 2018-19 season. In 34 games, he picked up five goals and 12 assists. He also made his debut in that same season in the SHL with Malmo — again, as a 16-year-old — playing in five games.
The following season, 2019-20, was split evenly between the J20 and the SHL. The J20 part of his campaign he scored 27 points in 27 games, and while his SHL time (three points in 21 games) wasn’t as productive on the scoresheet, he began to establish himself as someone who could play at a very high level in one of the world’s top leagues at a young age.
Here’s how his production grades out a year after that Byron Bader tweet from November of 2020:
There are certainly some intriguing comparables there.
Grans is expected to make the jump overseas and spend this season with the AHL’s Ontario Reign. How his development continues in North America will be what we’re all watching:
“I wouldn’t have had anything against him staying in Sweden for at least one more season,” said NHL and SHL writer Sixten Funqvist. “But then again, switching to the smaller rink and getting acclimated to such an environment may only be of benefit for him. There’s a huge difference moving over the Atlantic, especially with the rink size.”
So, what type of player can Reign fans expect in the Swedish blueliner?
Grans brings an excellent blend of offense and defense to his game as he is already someone who has shown the ability to be a very effective two-way defenseman.
Here is an example of a short-handed shift during that 2019-20 season. There are a number of things to like about the big righty here:
First, his back is never to the puck. His gap and reach force the puck carrier at the start of the clip to dish the puck. His head is up the entire time and as soon as the puck moves into the corner at the ten second mark, he jumps his man but doesn’t cling to him. He makes his run to put pressure on, then gets back to his position at the front of the net.
From then on, he stays very composed with his stick always down and in passing lanes. Perhaps the best part is that you never see him drift. It’s not uncommon, especially for a young player, to get caught “puck watching” and slowly drift toward the puck (i.e. out of position) without even knowing it. He stays where he needs to, doesn’t over-commit, and his head is always on a swivel looking to make sure there are no options sneaking behind him.
For me, the strength of Grans’s game is his transition. This is what makes him so effective as a two-way defenseman. He’s not your traditional stay-at-home, defensive defenseman, but I also don’t consider him your river-boat gambler leading the offensive rush at every chance he gets. His transition from defense to offense is very strong. The first two clips below are great examples of this:
The first part of the video he does a nice shoulder fake to elude the initial forecheck, and calmly brings the puck out from behind the net to make the first pass out to his winger. He’s calm the entire time, doesn’t rush into making a mistake with the puck due to the oncoming forechecker.
At 4:41 of the video is the beginning of the second clip worth noting. Grams picks up a loose puck and again, there’s no panic. He doesn’t hammer it off the boards back into traffic or wrap it around the net aimlessly. He calmly collects the puck, feels the oncoming pressure, and spins off him in the corner. From here, he has acres of space to which he brings the puck into the offensive zone and throws a puck on net. This is probably about as much him leading the play from a rush standpoint as I think he’ll bring.
While I don’t view him as someone to lead the rush necessarily, he is not at all afraid to join the rush.
” I wouldn’t expect him to lead the rush,” added Funqvist. “But don’t be surprised if he joins in the second wave of attack. I’ve seen him sneak up in the pocket to the left from time to time and I think that’s something he should be able to do in North America as well.”
Here, after picking up the puck in his own slot area, he makes his outlet pass to his forward but, recognizing the numbers in front of him and the play developing, continues on and joins the rush:
Similarly, here Grans intercepts the pass, makes an outlet to his forward and once again recognizes the space, the numbers, and the situation, and jumps up into the offensive rush after making the first pass:
So far, we’ve seen a bit of his defensive zone positioning and his willingness to jump into the rush as examples of what makes him strong at both ends of the ice. Perhaps his best asset, however, is his patience on the puck.
Here, he calmly (note: I’ve used this word a number of times already — it’s intentional) collects the puck in the neutral zone, smoothly pivots backward, out-waits the forechecker and makes a really short, easy pass to his teammate on a regroup. The puck ends up finding its way back to him as they breakout as a unit on this power-play:
Now the hockey-nerd in me is going to come out. This clip may not seem like much, but I just love the poise of a young defenseman in this position:
Once he gains possession of the puck in his own zone, he almost immediately has a forechecker coming to him. I’ve talked already about his patience with the puck. It’d be very easy to throw that up the boards and out of danger. Instead, he makes a slight pivot to open his hips up, recognizes that he has a forward just a few feet away in the middle of the ice, and hits him with a short, easy pass. These little plays are so crucial during a game. It’s more common than you’d think to have a defenseman fire it up the wall because it’s “safe.”
As we look ahead to the 2021-22 season, Grans is looking to continue his development. I chose my words carefully there. I don’t think there needs to be any more to his upcoming season than that. Take the next step in his development — from his adapting to southern California off the ice, to his footwork, defensive zone, and special teams play on the ice. At his age, he doesn’t need to force anything and he doesn’t need to be rushed.
“He’s a bit of a raw talent, if you will,” said Funqvist. “There is some polishing to be done but once that is over with and he’s kind of shaped into the Kings mold, he should be a natural fit on the Kings blueline .”
We’re getting our first extended look at Grans this offseason in North America and in this past weekend’s Rookie Faceoff in Arizona, it was a little bit of a mixed bag. There were times he showed the flashes of what makes him so effective offensively and in transition, though there were times where his feet looked a little heavy under pressure. That said, we need to remember he is just 19. He is an exciting prospect but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a work in progress.
He should get plenty of opportunities to see what he can do at the AHL level. With Sean Durzi likely anchoring the right side on the top pair, Austin Strand, Jordan Spence, and Grans will all try to figure out the next two on the right side, and perhaps one of them will move to the left. For what it’s worth, Spence spent much of the weekend on the left side (and handled it quite well, may I add).
I have referenced Corey Pronman’s NHL Pipeline Rankings in The Athletic often during these player previews, and I will do so again here. Grans shows up in Pronman’s “Has a chance to play” section, noting:
“Grans is a big right-shot defenseman who can make a strong outlet pass and has a big point shot, but his skating and defending concern scouts.”
All in all, we’re dealing with a very raw talent who is still a teenager about to make his debut in North America. There are a number of directions his development can go from here. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a star necessarily in the NHL, but he’s talented enough to be a staple in a team’s top-four.
“Barring any unforeseen stuff, I expect Helge Grans to be a full-time NHL’er down the line,” said Funqvist. “He’s got the tools to do it.”