Carl Grundstrom was a late second-round pick for the Leafs in 2016, going 57th overall. In a draft with some controversial choices after the first round, Grundstrom was popular, and he’s rewarding the believers with a big jump this year.
Grundstrom is our #12.
For much of the past year, Grundstrom has been compared to Zach Hyman. Grundstrom has a very particular set of skills: he will look for the puck, he will find it, and he will kill you.
Er, I mean, he’ll dig it out of the corners. Almost everyone speaks highly of Grundstrom’s bowling-ball physicality in the offensive zone, where he’s willing to contest every inch of ice in order to get what he wants. He crashes the net at every opportunity and can chip in offence doing so. One line his fellow Swedes have said about him, if you’ll forgive some national stereotyping, is that he’s “more Canadian than the Canadians.”
Mike Babcock famously loves hyper-competitive grinders, and it’s very easy to see Grundstrom being the next in that long line. The Leafs gave a tangible sign of how they feel about Grundstrom this spring: they signed him to an entry-level contract at the end of April.
The thing that stands out from his boxcars, though, is his goal total. Grundstrom jumped to 14 goals in 45 games this season with Frolunda. That kind of goal production for a teenager in a top-tier men’s league is mighty impressive, and has started to move people’s expectations for Grundstrom from Swedish Zach Hyman to a more dangerous power forward. Grundstrom’s solid cameo in the AHL playoffs with the Marlies—three goals and an assist in six games—only added to the hype on this score. If the grinder linemate for Matthews, or Marner, or Nylander were capable of putting up real goal totals, well...that would be really something.
You have to pump the brakes on that a bit. Grundstrom was shooting the lights out earlier this year, as detailed by our Katya Knappe here. With a more normal shooting percentage his goal total would sink back in the direction of ordinary, and you might notice that his assist totals are not very impressive. He’s also more of a straight-line skater than an agile one laterally. None of this is a huge knock on a guy as young and as effective as Grundstrom; it just means we have to be realistic about how much production we’re going to get out of him. There’s more than enough to like about him as he is.
Maybe the slightly more worrisome thing: Grundstrom’s intensity and tenacity have not yet made him into the kind of quality defensive winger that we’d hope for, Leo Komarov style. He’s certainly not bad, especially when you see him against fellow U20 players; it’s just that he’s got more room to grow there, and it’s the thing you really want him to work on.
Notwithstanding all that, Grundstrom is a more solid threat to be an NHLer than most of the forwards behind him on this list. He’s exactly the kind of guy Mike Babcock likes and he’s shown enough ability at that to get genuinely excited about. He’s still not a lock, because there are very few locks in hockey, but the signs are good. I would not be surprised to see Carl Grundstrom as a third-line winger on the Leafs within a few years.
Carl Grundström via Elite Prospects
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|Player statistics powered by�www.eliteprospects.com|
This clip begins with an interview with Grundstrom and some initial super-slo-motion highlights, so feel free to skip to 2:22 if you want to just get up to speed. You know, normally I make fun of the invariably-classic-rock-or-metal song choices on highlight videos, but “Raise A Little Hell” actually works really well for this one.
Anyway, you’ll immediately see Grundstrom doing what he does best, which is bashing his way to within ten feet of the net and then whacking the puck in. As you’d expect, he’s by no means a bad finisher, getting his stick on all sorts of bouncing pucks. Also, he does the “sheathing the sword” goal celebration at about 2:53, which is dope.
Blogboss Katya Knappe has a balanced take: appreciate Grundstrom for what he is.
Being an early bloomer still doesn't guarantee future growth. He's not suddenly going to score goals. He's not suddenly going to be the best puck carrier. The thing about the Leafs is they seem more willing to roll with who a player is, not get stuck angry they aren't who they wish they'd been.—Katya Knappe
I asked elseldo what he thought of Carl, and he just sent me this:
So, in the interest of owning up: I did not rank Grundstrom last year. He was fresh out of the draft, and I like to take a wait-and-see attitude with new picks outside the first round. But I did say this:
In making these ratings I was constantly, half-seriously wondering "which of these picks is most likely to make me look bad in a year?" Grundstrom is probably the guy I’m most at risk of underrating.
And here we are. Grundstrom is in the process of standing out from the winger pack, and if he had just a little more sustainable offence, I think I’d have him higher still. Even as it is, he looks like a good bet to rise above a crowded position, but winger jobs on the Leafs look like they’ll be at a premium in the next couple of years. All that said: he’s still very young—nine months younger than Jeremy Bracco, for example—and he’s been playing a grown man’s game in a grown man’s league. Mike Babcock is going to love him.