LA Kings right-shot defense prospect Helge Grans had a strong rookie season for the Ontario Reign in 2021-22.
The 2021-22 AHL season was a big step for Swedish defenseman Helge Grans. Though he had 69 games in the SHL, Sweden’s top professional league, this would be his first venture into the North American game at the professional level with the Ontario Reign.
When he showed up to the LA Kings development camp in the summer of 2021, he was a very raw prospect. With his size and tools, you could see why he was a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, but he was going to be a bit of a project. He was still growing into his body and then had to adapt to a higher level of hockey and a different ice surface.
Grans averaged just over 15 minutes of ice time per game in his rookie campaign, finishing with seven goals, 17 assists, and 24 points in 56 games.
It seemed the original plan was for the Reign to ease Grans into things. And it wasn’t just him. He and fellow rookie Jordan Spence had briefly alternated being in the lineup to start the season. Grans was a healthy scratch opening night but drew in for Spence in the second game of the season. At the time, the team had Sean Durzi and Austin Strand on the right side of the defense, so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to let the two kids find their way.
That didn’t last very long.
Due to injuries in Los Angeles, things quickly got shuffled around, and before you knew it, Grans and Spence were full-time players. We saw what Spence did with his opportunity. Though, Spence’s impressive rookie season shouldn’t completely overshadow what Grans brought to the table.
Consider that at even strength, Grans was tied with Cameron Gaunce for the most goals among defensemen on the team with six. His five primary assists were second only to Gaunce and he was second (again to Gaunce) in overall points at even strength among Reign defensemen with 17.
Indeed, Grans was still raw. His defensive game still requires work, but adjusting to the speed of the AHL, this isn’t much of a surprise.
|Lineups||Time on ice||CORSI+||CORSI-||CORSI||CF%|
|C. Gaunce, H. Grans||403:33||304||345||-41||47.0|
|C. Wolanin, H. Grans||274:03||210||237||-27||47.0|
|H. Grans, J. Moverare||194:30||128||193||-65||40.0|
Stats via InStat
All three of Grans’ partners, Gaunce and Moverare in particular, fared significantly better when paired with a defenseman other than Grans. So again, there is still work to be done in his own zone. I would expect a 19-year-old first-year pro to take some time for him to get used to a defensive zone system.
That said, in many ways, his breaking in with the offensive-minded Reign was a great fit for him. One thing I wanted to see was how assertive the young Grans would be in attack.
In my season preview for Grans, I had written, “While I don’t view him as someone to lead the rush necessarily, he is not at all afraid to join the rush.” I was encouraged to see this held true in his debut season with the Reign.
Though most of his shot attempts came from the right point in the offensive zone, he was not afraid to jump into the play, often finding himself below the dots in the offensive zone.
Here are two examples of him recognizing his space and jumping into the play to create a scoring chance. In the first one, he takes advantage of the Henderson players’ back to him and darts into the slot to receive a pass:
In this second one, Grans shows some more of his offensive instincts. Not only making himself available but then making a move to beat a defender and get a backhand opportunity in a dangerous area:
In addition, two of his seven goals even came from below the goal line.
Here, he receives a pass at the right circle, sees he has space and isn’t shy about jumping and shooting the puck. The initial shot is stopped, but without hesitation, he follows his shot to pick up his own rebound before finishing it off:
His in-zone awareness away from the puck is impressive. After making a pass to Wolanin (86), Grans slips down the right side toward the back post. He gets himself in the right spot to put home a rebound:
The prospect models are bullish on Grans. While he isn’t necessarily projected to be a star, he seems to be a good bet to make it to the show.
Byron Bader’s model includes some intriguing player comparisons based on his production levels to this point in his development:
While JFresh Hockey gives him an even greater chance at becoming an established NHL defenseman:
All this to say, it was an encouraging first season for Helge Grans. He’s the one defenseman not named Brandt Clarke that I am most excited about in the LA Kings’ organization. It may take another couple of years, but there is legitimate potential for a second-pairing defenseman in the NHL.