"On Midsommar’s Eve, the first round of this year's NHL draft is held in Buffalo." That was the poetic way a Swedish paper began their story about the draft, which (as I might’ve written before) is a crazy moment of transformation for young hockey-playing men.
It’s also an arbitrary measure of worth, a ranking number that floats over the head of prospects throughout their young career, and after the draft, sticks with them like a brand. Why else would William Nylander taunt his little brother Alex about his draft rank? (Ironically enough, both brothers were chosen 8th overall.)
Speaking of Alex and the draft ranks of Swedish prospects, we have come to the topic of this article: Carl Grundström, and the troubling impact that playing for a bad team has on draft rank. According to a Swedish news source with a fine eye for irony, Grundström played for MODO, a team that got relegated this season, before being drafted by "bottom team Toronto that missed playoffs six of the last seven seasons."
Here are the basic facts about Grundström: he played last season with MODO in the generally low-scoring SHL (Patrik B takes exception to this, article here), and led all draft-eligible SHL players with 16 points (7G/9A) in 49 games. He's 6'0, 194 lbs, and the 13th youngest to score in the league last season at age 17. When MODO got relegated at the end of the season, top-ranked Frölunda and Skellefteå both wanted him to join their clubs, and he chose Frölunda due to its excellent development facilities. Grundström has also played at every level of the Swedish national team, recently scoring 1G in 7 games at the U20 WJC. (Read Scott's scouting report here.)
His old coach in MODO, Anders Forsberg, called him the ultimate Canadian-playing Swede: "It is rare to see a player who can play more Canadian than Canadians themselves."
A year ago, Grundström was projected at 18th overall, first among all Swedish draft-eligible skaters. When draft rankings came out after the WJC, Alex Nylander (among others) leapfrogged him, and Craig Button devalued him to 58th place. Button ranked Nylander, Rasmus Asplund, Filip Gustavsson and Jonathan Dahlen ahead of him -- and was eerily accurate about his draft rank. Grundström went 57th overall.
This left me wondering, what is the chicken and what is the egg in this scenario? Did Button influence scouts? Did scouts influence Button? How did everyone come to judge Grundström’s play as considerably worse than a year ago?
Could it be that the other four draft-eligible Swedes simply surged ahead by their play at WJC? Perhaps the crappy quality of Grundström’s MODO team cast him in a worse light? The answer isn’t apparent, but Grundström sank to where the Leafs could neatly snap him up in the second round.
So is he any good? Habs Eyes on the Prize Swedish correspondent Patrik B wrote us this scouting report:
Carl Grundström is big, physical for a Swedish/European player. He is not afraid of using his body to screen the puck. He handles the puck well, has a decent shot when he get time to wind up, otherwise I see that as the thing he can improve the most [the shot]. He finds ways to open places and he works his ass off to get to those places.
He also has a drive to succeed, twice when I have been meant to talk to him he has been working out extra after practice. He also stayed home in Sweden in order to practice rather than to go to the draft.
He forechecks well throwing his weight around quite a bit. I think he would benefit from more play in the power play, but I am not sure he will get that in Frölunda this season.
His choice to sign with Frölunda is in order to have success with one of the best teams in Sweden. Both Skellefteå and Frölunda was targeting Grundström in the off season, he choose Frölunda to get a better shot at NHL and to develop in much the same way as Johnson, Bengtsson (PIT) and Lehkonen, and get ready for the NHL.
He is the big forward that we don't seem to get many of in Sweden, he is smart driven and my bet he will succeed. In Frölundas development it is difficult to see the ceiling, but I was high on him and I wanted Montreal to take him if we had a second round pick.
Grundström is excited about spending next season with Frölunda, especially after trying his best to raise the level of play in a bad MODO team. He told Expressen, "Frölunda really delivered. The team was really good all of last season. Frölunda has done well in a number of years. It is a very good team that plays fun and fast-paced hockey."
Grundström was also asked to play for Skellefteå, but liked the town of Gothenburg more. "Gothenburg seems to be a really nice and cozy town. And there is great interest in Frölunda." He loved the training facilities there, saying, "It's really nice. It was actually better than I expected. It seems that one can do everything there."
In the same interview with Expressen, he talked about his own play thus: "I see myself as a hardworking physical forward who also does some points. My strengths lie in the physical game and the game around the offensive goal. I want to improve the game in its own zone, score more goals and be difficult to meet."
He admires Peter Forsberg. "I watched a lot of him when he was at his best. We have run into each other now and then. It's been fun to see him. But I'm not trying to play like him. I try to play my game and give everything out there."
Will Grundström make the ranks of the Leafs after spending due time at Frölunda and probably the Marlies? He’s got size, dedication, and focus. It’ll be interesting to see if and how his game improves now that he’s with a better team.