Perhaps auditioning for more playing time next year, Carl Grundstrom saved his best for last. The Swedish forward scored twice in the LA Kings‘ Game 4 win against the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also assisted on another goal, marking the first three-point game of his young career.
The Kings went on to drop the series in seven games, but the Umeå, Sweden native, left his mark on the coaching staff.
During the team’s year-end exit interviews, Kings head coach Todd McLellan was asked if the young forward has grown into the player the team had envisioned.
“He has and will continue to,” McLellan said. “When it comes to (Grundstrom), more than one individual thought that he was the most improved player. He’s the one player that I’ve met with (so far), and I got one of those ‘Grunny’ smiles, so good for him.”
Grundstrom has been a part-time player in Los Angeles since being acquired from the Maple Leafs in January 2019. McLellan has been tasked with finding playing time for a wealth of forwards in the team’s pipeline, which meant Grundstrom had been a healthy scratch at times.
He put together arguably his most convincing year in the 2021-22 season, accumulating nine goals and 15 points in 54 regular-season games. The 24-year-old tallied six goals and five assists in 47 games while averaging 12:28 TOI during the 2020-21 season.
Grundstrom was frequently among the top-five players on the Kings roster in goals for (GF%) to expected goals-for (xGF%), finishing with a net positive 4.37 GF% versus xGF%.
|Player||GP||TOI||GF%||xGF%||GF% vs. xGF%|
Data via Natural Stat Trick
Perhaps the area he has grown the most in that time has been his defensive game. Grundstrom was responsible for just nine giveaways this season, matching last year’s total while playing in seven more games.
“I think I’ve been getting better, especially on the defensive side of my game and also being stronger on the puck, making better plays,” he said after Game 4. “You learn as you play. I just try to play my game every game, sometimes you score and sometimes you don’t, that’s part of the game.”
Added, Grundstrom has brought a much-needed physical element to a Kings team that finished with the sixth-fewest hits in the league. He paced all Los Angeles skaters with 134 hits during the 2021-22 campaign, averaging 14.12 hits per 60 minutes – 17th best in the NHL for forwards who played at least 500 minutes TOI.
While it’s unfair to expect Grundstrom to replace Dustin Brown’s physicality, he can make the opposition think twice about going into the corner with him.
“He brings physicality, he’s a hard guy to play against,” McLellan said of Grundstrom. “He plays in straight lines, he gets his nose over the puck all the time and brings that energy and physicality, and he can shoot a puck when he gets an opportunity.”
When comparing their age 24 seasons, Grundstrom and Brown’s stats (in per 60 rates) are comparable; approximately the same in hits, rush attempts, rebounds created, individual high-danger chances for, goals, and points per 60 minutes.
|Age 24 Season||Dustin Brown||Carl Grundstrom|
Data via Natural Stat Trick
Brown holds the advantage in penalties drawn, whereas Grundstrom leads in shots blocked rate.
And it’s no surprise that Brown spoke with Grundstrom in advance of Game 1 of the playoffs to give the young forward the ins and outs of the postseason.
“Brownie had a talk with me before [Game 1], I played on the same line as him in the first two games,” Grundstrom said. “He talked a little bit about how the playoffs work and I thought that helped me a lot.”
As noted, in Game 4 of the Kings’ playoff game against the Oilers, Grundstrom won an important puck battle along the sideboards, jarring it loose to create the game’s first goal.
In the third period, he scored the third and fourth goals of the game.
The first, Grundstrom carried the puck through all three zones, powering his way to the net, and beat netminder Mike Smith, despite being tripped by Darnell Nurse. Dirty goals have generally been the mantra for the Swedish forward, with many of his scoring chances coming in high-traffic areas.
Over half of Grundstrom’s shots on goal either came from just outside the crease or in the low slot.
Grundstrom is a restricted free agent this offseason. He will undoubtedly be tendered another contract. With Brown retiring, and several other notable free agents who could not return next year, the roster should see more clarity heading into the 2022-23 season.
Viktor Arvidsson was the notable absence among the forwards in the playoffs. Grundstrom jumped onto the second line with Trevor Moore and Phillip Danault in Game 4, and it’s no coincidence that he tallied a three-point night.
“It was a lot of fun and it was easy to play with those two,” Grundstrom said of Moore and Danault. “They’re two really good hockey players and I could just play my game. Really smart, makes good plays and strong on the puck. I agree with the other guys [who have said similar things], it’s easy to play with them.”
With Arvidsson back in the fold next year, Grundstrom will likely be among the top-nine forwards in Los Angeles, with every chance to carve out a permanent role for himself going forward.