Welcome back to Shift Work! The series where I take a look at a draft-eligible player and breakdown a game tape. I’ll be bringing you some comprehensive breakdowns of a player’s game as we go over an entire game of tape from a player. We will be focusing in on that player’s impactful shifts and getting a peek at what the average game of that player looks like. We won’t cover every shift, but we will go over most of the shifts that the player played an active role in. We will be highlighting a lot of things that scouts and evaluators look for when they are watching a player’s game.
I couldn’t do this nearly as easy if it weren’t for collaboration with Prospect Shifts. The subscription-based website ($5/$10 options available) that takes a draft-eligible player and produces a video with only that player’s shifts. It cuts out the rest of the game, the commercials and intermissions making it much less time consuming to get a quick view on a player for scouts, writers and analysts alike.
This edition of ‘Shift Work’ is centered around Swedish right-shot defender Helge Grans of the Malmö Redhawks of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). We are going to take a look at a few shifts from Grans is an offensive defenseman who has an intriguing size and skill combination which has helped drive his draft stock in a year where skilled defensemen seem to be a bit of scarcity, at least near the top of the draft. Grans has a good shot but can be a little inaccurate with it. He moves the puck well, using his passing skill to put the puck on the tape of forwards in transition. Although moving the puck tape-to-tape up ice is Grans’ preferred method of transition, he is more than capable of skating the puck up ice on his stick. The offensive zone is where Grans really shines as he is able to use his skating and creativity in the attacking zone to make a difference as a playmaker and as a goal-scoring threat from the back end.
Grans’ biggest struggle is his play without the puck, specifically when defending. He does a decent job of gap control but often reacts late to the attacker’s moves at the blueline which leave Grans a step behind. His decision making is questionable as well, causing poor positioning at times. He doesn’t use his size as effectively as you’d like and his penchant for going for the long bomb once he regains possession of the puck has led to a number of occasions where he’s forced to continue defender late in a shift after a pass is picked off by the opposition. He has been blessed with physical tools and a skill set that many defenders dream of having naturally, so the intrigue with Grans is rightfully high.
Helge Grans (#2 in white) first impactful shift comes on the powerplay about halfway through the first frame. Grans is the farside defender as the clip below begins. He is in a good position to receive a pass with ample space around him and slowly creeping towards the top of the faceoff circle. When the puck gets to him, he has to make a split-second decision as whether to take a shot before the defender closes the gap or continue passing the puck around. He fires a return pass right back to his teammate who fires a pass right back. Grans is able to thread the needle and play a bit of give-and-go while set up in the offensive zone. This is ultimately the best chance that This type of passing ability is what makes Grans such a difference-maker, especially on the powerplay where he has extra space to create and maneuver the offensive zone.
The next clip that we are focusing in on shows that while Grans has the creativity and willingness to try things in his game that makes him special, those same tools can lead to the young defender making some mistakes. Grans does a good job of playing the middle of the ice and recovering the loose puck as it leaks into the zone and behind him. As he corrals the puck, he spins and fires the puck up ice towards a forward who is streaking across the red line. The issue is that he didn’t see the opposing player at his blueline. Grans turns the puck over inside his defensive zone and concedes the slot to his defensive partner as he protected the far side of the net as another attacker streaked down from the top of the faceoff circle. You’d like to see Grans take an extra second to identify where the opposition is and allow for his teammate to find space in the neutral zone. Grans’ decision-making comes into question at times, often because he feels the need to rush to create.
In the following video, Grans is playing in the defensive zone and does a good job of initially closing the gap. The attacker stops up and Grans reacts a bit late and reaches with his stick as to limit the options for the puck carrier. He recovers fairly well and corrals a deflected pass. He is unable to clear the puck but does a good job of engaging in the board battle, limited what the attacking team can do from that position. Grans uses his large frame to lean on the attacker along the boards, forcing the puck down the boards and into the possession of his teammate below the goalline. This is the type of play that is expected from a defender who is gifted with the size and skating ability that Grans has. If he can consistently play a more aggressive defensive game, Grans can become a capable, steady defender at a minimum.
Grans likes to push the envelope offensively and tries to get engaged in the play when it’s in the offensive end. While this leads to steady production and flashy highlights, it can also lead to odd-man rushes the other way when he makes a judgement mistake and pinches without support or fails to identify the threat of transitional offence for the opposition. Grans does just that in the video below. He identifies the open space while the puck is being battled for along the boards. He sneaks into space but the puck battle is lost by his Redhawks and the puck is pushed up the ice. Grans falls behind the play and despite his strong skating, he is only able to get his stick into the passing lane. Grans gets lucky and the play breaks down before it can truly become dangerous. These errors won’t go unpunished.
Grans’ next shift is one that will generally go unnoticed but it is an important play that helps keep the puck away from the opposing team and allows his team to move up the ice with possession. Upon entering the defensive zone, Grans identifies that his partner is heading to the corner so he positions himself behind the net for an outlet pass. Once given the puck, Grans recognizes the oncoming forechecker and quickly outlets to the forward low in the zone along the wall. Grans’ pass doesn’t look flashy here but it is effective and serves a purpose.
Grans’ defensive effort is inconsistent at times, even within a shift. During the shift below, Grans displays a good effort in defending and engaging the play in the corner and behind the net. He vacates the front of the net after recognizing the support from the center but he immediately drops below the goal line. Ideally, he would stay above the goal line to ensure that he can cut off passes to the net-front but that situation doesn’t present itself. He applies good back pressure as the puck is worked behind the net. The effort becomes an issue as the puck is passed to the point and Grans stops up at the far side of the face-off circle and never gets himself back into a defensive position. Thankfully the puck is cleared and Grans being virtually out of the play has no barrings on the scoreboard. These issues seem minor when they don’t burn him but if he gets into the habit of putting in a half-hearted effort defensively, he will struggle as he continues his development.
To start the third, Grans shows good gap control through the neutral zone, transitioning from one attacker to another as the puck is passed around. His lateral movement is quite good, smoothly moving through the neutral zone. He does a good job of keeping a tight enough gap that it forces the attacker to dump the puck in. Grans immediately tracks towards the front of the net, ensuring the danger is limited. He is able to provide an outlet option behind his net. He makes a questionable decision once the puck is on his stick, passing towards the middle of the ice while being behind the goal line, unable to defend a turnover. The pass is disrupted but the opposition can’t corral it and the puck is moved up ice by the Redhawks forwards. This type of pass can end up in the back of the net at a high rate. This is another situation of Grans needlessly rushing his pass, resulting in a possible dangerous turnover.
Grans again does a good job of getting to the front of his net to ensure it’s clear before providing an outlet behind the net. The puck never makes it to him as its worked around the offensive zone. Grans moves back towards the net front and keeps his stick on the ice. He identifies the attacker in the slot, along with the fact that a forward is in position to defend that attacker. This allows Grans to hold his ground, clog the lane and stop the pass through the slot. A quick tap pass to a teammate and the puck should have been out of danger. The opposition regains control of the puck and Grans continues to do a decent job of defending the net front. He could stand to be a bit more physical, especially towards the end of the play as things are breaking down in front of his netminder but the young Swede does a decent job nonetheless.
The following shift is another display of Grans’ excellent skating and passing ability. The puck is worked back to him in the defensive zone and he moves laterally, spreading out the opposing teams forecheck to open a pass back against the grain. He makes the pass with ease and the puck is temporarily moved out of the zone. As the opposing team works back into the offensive zone, Grans cuts the gap and angles the attacker to the outside. The attacker quickly fires a weak shot on net and the play is blown dead. Grans shows the ability to capably defend when he uses his skating.
REVIEW AND ANALYSIS
Helge Grans is an 18-year-old playing in the SHL so he is fairly limited in his opportunity but he shows well in the time he is given. He excels on the powerplay and with time and space. In this game against Växjö, Grans was able to show both the good and bad of his creativity and decision making. The young Swede displayed his offensive prowess and attacking style when in the offensive zone but was exposed for an ill-advised pinch or two throughout the game. The powerplay early in the game (clip #1) showed that he has the ability to identify the open man and the understanding that making that play quickly allows for increased odds of scoring thanks to the lateral movement that the passing forces the goaltender to do.
His defensive game is clearly still a work in progress but there are signs and tools there to work with. He showed that he can, even if infrequently, use his body to help pressure attackers and separate the puck from the man in board battles. He will likely need to continue getting stronger but he has a solid frame to work with. His positioning is inconsistent, often fading into space that isn’t integral to defending the high danger zone. The play in clip #6 shows that while he is putting in the effort, he can be slightly out of position. Developing his defensive awareness will be key to improving and developing his defensive game because he has all the tools and puck-moving ability that you could ask for in a young defenseman.
Grans has a combination of size, skating and skill will be enough to propel him being selected with a pick in the first two rounds. He has work to do in the film room, examining his own play with a fine-tooth comb and working on his decision-making. He understands how to attack and that will be the selling point in his game. His skating is effortless and he moves smoothly in all directions. The biggest thing with Helge Grans continues to be whether or not he can put all of his skills together. Further development in his mental game is going to be key if Grans wants to continue pushing into the first-round conversation.
Thank you for joining me for another edition of Shift Work! I’ll be back for another edition in a couple of weeks. Be sure to check out my extensive Mid-Season NHL Draft Rankings Breakdown that includes information on 50+ draft-eligible players and so much more! Until then, you’ll find me Rambling here on Dobber Prospects every Monday and you can follow me on Twitter at @theTonyFerrari! Which prospects have stood out to you recently? If there’s anyone you want an opinion on or think has been standing out lately, comment below or send me a message on Twitter. Be sure to check out previous installments of the Shift Work series below and give me your feedback on those as well!
Previous Editions of the “Shift Work” series: