Rumour has it the Toronto Maple Leafs made a trade last night. Turns out, in case you haven’t heard, the Leafs traded their 2019 first, Carl Grundstrom, and Sean Durzi for a defenseman on the LA Kings named Jake Muzzin.
The trade had a lot of different types of pieces going both ways. An established NHLer, a young AHLer, a good RHD junior hockey prospect, and a first round pick. Within the hockey bubble, there are lots of people who specialize in certain areas, so it’s hard for one person to provide an all-encompassing idea of what a trade like this means. You have NHL experts, draft experts, junior hockey experts, and guys like me who cover the AHL.
As a result, I felt obligated to give my two cents on who the AHL prospect in the trade, Carl Grundstrom, is and what he might bring to his new team.
His story with Toronto
Carl Grundstrom is a 21-year-old left winger in his first full season on North American ice. He joined the Toronto Marlies at the end of last season after finishing his season with Frolunda of the SHL, and was a nice complementary piece for the Marlies on their Calder Cup-winning playoff run. That was our first impression of him up close.
In the 22 games we saw from him last season with the Marlies, Grundstrom made sure to play a very straightforward game on a line that was minimal in terms of defensive responsibility. He played his role as simply as one could — stand at the point in the defensive zone, tip the puck in or follow the puck carrier in the neutral zone, and stand in front of the net with his 6’0”, 201-pound muscular frame. It worked well for him as he scored 14 points in 20 games. Leafs fans felt Grundstrom had a lot of promise heading into the summer. He was really highly rated with a large section of fans insistent on him making the Leafs out of camp, but he didn’t, and instead spent his first full season in North America with the Marlies.
In 42 games this season, Grundstrom had nine goals and 10 assists for 19 5v5 points on the Marlies. Add to that 10 power play points, and you’ve got 29 points in 42 games. A solid rookie year.
What Kings fans are getting
If you needed one word to describe Grundstrom, it would be that he’s a tank. Honestly. Despite only being six-feet nothing, the Swede is solid as a rock and cannot be moved. His go-to move when he first arrived in Toronto was standing in front of the net and banging in rebounds while his perimeter-shooting linemates took target practice. He was very good at his role, and as he got more comfortable with his new team, we saw some nice additions to his game.
Once he got comfortable in front of the opposition’s net, he slowly began to branch out and work on his play farther and farther from the blue paint. His distributing ability from the side of the net has improved — it’s a play he uses a lot on the power play — but the most underrated part of Grundstrom’s game now is easily his shot. He has a cannon of a wrister and snapper that he’s gotten really good at using when coming down the wing off the rush. He’s got a great pair of hands that have served him really well in those tight spaces in front of the goalie, but it’s also proven useful when he comes in at speed.
He’s got a wicked shot, a nose for the net, and an attitude that makes you loathe him if he’s not on your side. Every night you see him slyly throwing in an extra shot and eyeing the other team’s bench without saying a word. It’s been really fun to watch, and I’ll definitely miss him.
Those are the positives, but there are also drawbacks to Grundstrom’s game. No one’s perfect.
The first con to Grundstrom’s game is that he’s not very good defensively. The Marlies play a system where the checking line (usually the third or fourth, basically whichever Colin Greening or Frederik Gauthier is on) takes on heavy defensive minutes, while the first line plays against everyone’s top guys, and the other two lines are stacked with kids and skilled vets. Grundstrom’s been anchored to the second line on the Marlies all throughout his tenure, playing with the likes of Jeremy Bracco, Sam Gagner, Miro Aaltonen, Andreas Johnsson, and Chris Mueller. In other words, a bevy of very very good AHLers with great offensive instincts. As a result, Grundstrom never had to take on defensive assignments, or learn how to penalty kill. Or backcheck all too diligently. At 21, I wanted to see more of that out of him, but I’ll accept that having the work ethic of a Andreas Johnsson or Trevor Moore is developed with time. He’ll get there, but he’s still a very raw talent that needs to be filled out.
Kings fans, Grundstrom probably won’t be a play-driver for your team, but if you remain patient and if the AHL coaching staff puts in the effort, you should be able to find a nice middle-six soldier in a few years out of this kid. With his size, tenacity and speed, his game should fit in well to the heavy style of the Western Conference that has slowly been getting faster every year.