It's been a while since I shared a report on the man affectionately known as GREB, and there's been some noteworthy updates worth mentioning. The last update was on September 11th, and as of writing this (Oct 17) it will be over a month and about a dozen games.
So we have some catching up to do!
CHANGES IN USAGE
When I wrote about Grebyonkin's start to this season, my overall take on his play and usage was a bit... confused. Mostly the usage part, but that potentially influenced his play in my eyes.
I touched on this then, but Metallurg was the most mad-scientist about experimenting with different lineup configurations for the first 12 or so games of the season. Every game saw a different mix of forwards as far as who was on what line with what other players. That sort of extended to special teams as well, though not to the same extent.
To use Grebyonkin as an example – though he was by no means the only player to get this treatment – he would never be on the same line each game. And that would change halfway through a game. He'd start on the fourth line, then the top line, then the second line, then the top line, then be benched, then the third line, then the second line, then... and so on. Ditto his special team usage, where he'd get some powerplay time but no penalty kill, then none of either, then both, then just penalty kill.
I have never in my hockey life seen this much constant change of usage across a whole team before. The most puzzling part is that it didn't seem to affect ice time that much. Grebyonkin always hovered around 11-13 minutes per game regardless of what line he started on, or what his special teams usage was. Same thing with all of the other forwards, where there is a pretty clear delineating for who the coaches play the most. But even then, the ice time distribution between them is pretty equal. There's no McDavid or Matthews playing 20~ minutes per night. The most played forward doesn't even top 18 minutes. And while the bottom six has seen a revolving door of different guys swapping in and out, those that have played in most games had been around 12-13 minutes per game.
That included Grebyonkin, who through the first 12 games of the season was averaging 12:09 of ice time and not much on special teams – especially the powerplay. But right when the calendar flipped from September to October, things finally started to settle into more of a pattern. There's still been some shifting around, but more within the normal bounds you'd expect from game to game.
But overall, Grebyonkin has seen his usage both increase but also stabilize from before October. In the first 12 games, he averaged 12:09 of ice time, 0:53 on the powerplay, and 0:38 on the penalty kill. In the 8 games since then, he's averaging 15:05 of ice time, 2:31 on the powerplay, and only 0:09 on the penalty kill. So most of his increase in ice time has come from getting more powerplay time but he's also gotten a bump at even strength.
CHANGES IN PERFORMANCE
The change in usage, both in terms of getting more ice time (and powerplay time) and just having a regular role on the same line with (mostly) the same teammates, has had a notable change in Grebyonkin's performance.
- In the 12 games before this stabilization: 3 goals, 1 assist, 4 points and 15 shots.
- In the 8 games since the stabilization: 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points and 16 shots.
This is a significant increase in Grebyonkin's production, both in terms of points (0.33 to 1.00 per game) and shots (1.25 to 2.00 per game). He's also just looked better and more confident. Those assists are no cheapies, he's earned them by making plays to get the puck and then making plays with the puck to set up his teammates for quality scoring chances. Same thing with his goals, where his increase in shooting has been accompanied by having more dangerous shot attempts.
A lot of this is driving by his transitions and rush opportunities. That was his bread and butter last season, but was more muted in the early parts of the season. With the stabilization for his usage, whether pure coincidence or otherwise, he's started getting more opportunities off the rush again.
CHANGES FROM LAST YEAR
So what does all that translate to, compared to Grebyonkin's previous season?
Well, Grebyonkin is at a similar point rate overall – 0.57 last year and 0.60 this year. So his assist rate is down, but I’d say this is more because of a mix of a few things. There's been some bad luck (teammates not finishing), and he hasn't been playing with the same level of finishers like he did last year. He has also not been playing as much on the powerplay, and when he does he's not been used in the same kind of playmaking role where he was in the Marner spot around the point. This year he's been used more around the net, which seems to have helped his goal production but hurt his assist totals.
Being basically at the same point per game pace may seem like Grebyonkin hasn’t improved from a production point of view, but it's worth keeping his usage in mind because he's seen a dip in his ice time:
- Last year: 16:39 total TOI per game (2:35 on the PP)
- This year: 13:19 total TOI per game (1:33 on the PP)
And this is not to say that Metallurg doesn't think Grebyonkin is as good as Amur did. This is mostly down to the different circumstances between Amur, who was one of the worst teams in the KHL last year, and Metallurg who as of now have the best record in the whole league. Last year, Amur wanted Grebyonkin even as a young rookie because they sucked, and their forwards sucked. He immediately became one of their best forwards and was played a lot because they had no one else. This year, Metallurg is a top team with a very deep group of forwards – see above for how they have been distributing ice time pretty evenly from the top to the bottom lines.
The fact that Grebyonkin has solidified a regular spot for himself on one of the top lines at even strength, and on with the same amount of PP time per game as he did all of last season, is more impressive than just being handed a top role by default.
And he's been earning that extra time now. On a per 60 minute rate basis, his production has improved from 2.08 points/60 to 2.70 – this is taking into account his whole season, including his slower start. To put that into context, if he had been producing at that rate last year he would have had an additional 8 points increase over the 26 points he had.
CHANGE IN EYE TEST
Point production and usage aside, I do think Grebyonkin looks different this year. Not substantially so, it's not like I think he went from being a potential bottom six depth guy to a top six point guy who's just outside of stardom.
What I've seen is mostly the same as last year, just better all around. Grebyonkin's biggest improvements have come from the kinds of things I always attribute to strength. He has filled out and added weight, most of which seems like muscle. He looks stronger and more powerful/explosive in numerous ways: his skating and his strength on his feet. I wouldn't say he's dramatically faster, but his first few steps are noticeably quicker to me. He's reportedly cleaned up some of the mechanics of his skating, but I'll trust the experts on that because I have no idea. He is also simply harder to push around and can hold his own physically to a much better degree.
The other area his strength seems to have helped is his shot. Last year I thought he lacked even a decent wrist shot, which looked like he had a wet noodle for a stick. If he scored a goal, it was from tapping in a rebound or putting a deke on the goalie. This year he's fired some much harder and more dangerous looking shots, and his most recent goal was a nice looking snipe job. It wasn't necessarily a super hard shot, but it was quick, accurate, and hard enough. Adding any kind of threat from a wrist shot will help him a lot more.
The one area I would like to see him improve a lot more is the consistency of his effort off the puck. There are times when he decides to just be an absolute nuisance to whoever has the puck. This is an area where his improved strength and explosiveness has helped. The problem is that he doesn't do it all the time, and will just be passively guarding an area or doing no more than moving his stick to block a passing lane. What makes, say, Easton Cowan special isn't that he works hard, it's that he works hard all the freaking time. Not everyone can do that, but doing it more often will help Greb's defensive impact that much more.
I think we would all love to see more of the tail end of this clip, where just decides that the other team has the puck, but it should really be his puck, and he is going to skate you down and knock you on your ass to get his puck back thank you very much!
So that's where I think Grebyonkin is as of now. He's made some improvements to his play and is earning a bigger role on Metallurg as a result. There are some other improvements he could make over the rest of this season that would help, but so far this season as a whole has solidified my opinion of him going into this season – I still think he has a real chance to be a useful bottom six depth guy, like a Pontus Holmberg or a Noah Gregor. Maybe something better if he has one more big developmental leap in him. While that may not be exciting to many people, he's always been fun to watch for me and could wind up being a fan favourite!