Damned Lies & Statistics: Mikael Granlund is not getting enough credit

Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects: Mikael Granlund. He’s having an outstanding year, and yet I think he’s not getting enough credit for just how good he’s been playing. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that we recently added game scores to the blog. Granlund leads all Wild skaters with an average GS of 0.83, which tells you that he is going out and contributing each night. Let’s dig deeper into his season, shall we?

Note: all numbers below at 5v5. Perhaps I’ll follow up with some 5v4 data but this is post is all about even-strength.

First and foremost, I think the most important thing to know about Granlund this year is that Bruce Boudreau is relying on the Koivu-Granlund pairing in the defensive zone more than Mike Yeo ever did. Take a look at this breakdown of Granny’s OZ-DZ starts over his career.

That is a major change in deployment this year compared to his first four years in the league. Among skaters with >400 minutes, Granlund ranks 28th in DZ start rate (Koivu is 10th). Coach Yeo used to rely heavily on his fourth line to soak up the defensive zone starts, while Boudreau does not really trust the bottom line at all. Instead, he has tasked Koivu and Granlund to take the bulk of the defensive assignments. And to their credit, they have responded really well…take a look at these GF% numbers, and keep in mind the massive switch in OZ/DZ starts for Granlund this year.

Wow. Wowzers. That chart is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. When Granlund is on the ice, 71% of the goals scored go in favor of the Wild. With the exception of the 15-16 year, that ratio has gone up each year, which speaks to his overall growth as a player. I’m not sure if he can keep that percentage up, but regardless, it’s an amazing stat.

Next, let’s look at Granlund’s individual contribution over the years. Yet again, we see consistent growth, and career-best numbers this year even with heavy DZ deployment.

While his goal-scoring rate is pretty much unchanged, his primary assists have taken a major step forward this year, leading to a massive spike in his primary points/60. Granlund played all 82 games last year and scored (13+31=44), and is set to smash that record this year. In 46 games, he’s already got (11+28=39), and his per-game performance puts him on pace for (19+50=69). Nice.

A new feature this year over at the fantastic hockeyviz.com is heat maps for player shots. Here’s a GIF I put together for Granlund’s unblocked shots (Fenwicks) in his career.

Particularly since 15-16, we see that Granlund is getting his shots from much closer in, compared to his earlier years. As we discussed on the podcast recently, I think he’s not getting credit for adding some strength to his game. He’s still among the smaller players on the ice out there, but he’s playing more aggressively and getting to the low slot, which is paying off like in this beautiful goal against the Ducks.

Obviously, he got behind the defense and made a slick move to beat the goalie there…I’m not saying he’s turning into a power forward by any means, but as he matures as a player, he’s been able to get in close and rack up the points (this also helps explain his astronomical 11.8% shooting, after being around 7-8% in his career.)

Finally, since Granlund and Koivu have been joined at the hip this year, I wanted to highlight some of their eye-popping numbers. The two of them skated together just 57 minutes at even strength last year, compared to 576 minutes this year. Feast your eyes on these incredible WOWY numbers

Koivu + Granlund  576:03 3.33 1.15 74.4%  50.8
Koivu apart 60:57  0.00 1.97 0.0% 36.0%
Granlund apart 86:23  2.78 2.78 50.0% 36.6%

Again, considering their extreme defensive deployment, the fact that the pair has a corsi above 50% and scores nearly three-quarters of the goals, the two Finns certainly have some chemistry out there. Koivu has yet to score a goal when apart from Granlund, and both of their possession stats apart from the other are a woeful 36%.

For a long time, the mantle of “the Wild’s next 1C” was thrust upon Granlund’s shoulders, but he is thriving after a move to the wing. Additionally, while he arrived in the NHL typecast as a pure playmaker, he has really responded this year to a new task of playing a complete 200-foot game alongside Mikko Koivu. Granlund is going to have a career year in terms of point production, but I think it’s even more impressive given his difficult deployment. With the playoffs all but assured this year, Granlund will be able to draw upon his 29 postseason games experience. Hopefully he will be able to continue his fantastic performance in the regular season and propel the Wild deep into the playoffs.

Thanks for reading, make sure to follow me @BobaFenwick and subscribe to the HTH podcast on iTunes!