What Did the Toronto Maple Leafs Lose in Carl Grundstrom?

LAVAL, QC, CANADA - DECEMBER 21: Carl Grundstrom #10 of the Toronto Marlies skating with the puck against the Laval Rockets at Place Bell on December 21, 2018 in Laval, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images)
LAVAL, QC, CANADA - DECEMBER 21: Carl Grundstrom #10 of the Toronto Marlies skating with the puck against the Laval Rockets at Place Bell on December 21, 2018 in Laval, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images) /

In acquiring Jake Muzzin, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally have the defenceman they’ve long waited for. But that doesn’t mean he came cheap, either.

Carl Grundstrom is the real meat of the trade from the Kings’ side of things.

He’s the most NHL ready of the three assets heading their way – both in a physical sense and in terms of raw skill set. With Sean Durzi – who belongs to the Kings only via his signing rights – still years away from the mere mention of an NHL tryout and the exact position of the yet-to-be-used first-round pick still undetermined, Grundstrom is the only piece of Monday’s deal that LA holds in a tangible capacity.

Rob Blake & Co. can’t shake hands with Durzi or his newly-acquired draft pick. But he can shake hands with Grundstrom. And that matters, working to demonstrate precisely what his arrival offers them; an immediate return.

One they desperately need.

Financial Impact

The Kings are currently mired in what is largely seen as the least desirable position an organization can find themselves in.

When it comes to sliding down the standings, the majority of teams are able to come to terms with their limitations quickly and begin initiating a rebuild. But the Kings are in different territory here. Their point totals have been on a downswing for some time now, and this year, they’ve begun dropping as rapidly as their ageing core’s cap numbers rise.

To make matters worse, this trend doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon, either.

Frankly, Grundstrom signifies exactly what the Kings need but also do not have.

He’s young; still just 21-year-old. He’s cheap; on an ELC running through 2020-21 which, according to CapFriendly, carries a paltry $925,000 cap hit and nothing in the realm of performance bonuses. Most importantly, however, Grundstrom is skilled; with the offensive instincts needed to inject life into a dwindling bottom-six.

Young, cheap, cost-effective offensive options are the new way of survival in the modern NHL. Such is life in a hard capped league. Identifying players of this ilk and stockpiling them along the ancillary spots of one’s roster is necessary for those who hold championship aspirations – allowing for contention windows to stay open and high-priced cores to stay intact.

Los Angeles, whether they want to be or not, are committed to the latter.

Of the 8 players on the Kings’ roster who stand to make over $4 million this season, 7 are aged 31 or older while the lone remaining holdout, Drew Doughty, just celebrated his 29th birthday and will count for $11 million against the cap until 2026-27.

That’s as dubious a financial cliff as one can find, which means that acquiring someone like Grundstrom – whose floor is that of an NHLer and whose cap hit will barely register on the organization’s bottom line – will need to be the modus operandi moving forward.

But the bottom line is only one piece of the grand equation. What will Grundstrom offer the Kings in an on-ice capacity?

On-Ice Impact

For one, there’s still work to be done regarding his development.

Despite Grundstrom’s status as a top-line member of the Marlies’ Calder Cup-winning super team a year ago, the young Swede has just 70 total games on North American ice under his belt thus far, regular season and playoffs included, and still holds the distinction of an AHL rookie.

Grundstrom is raw – typical for any 20-year-old prospect. His offensive skill is there, that’s without question. But what seemingly made Grundstrom available for trade in the first place is his inability as of yet to demonstrate that skill consistently this year despite having never ventured outside the Marlies’ vaunted top-six.

That’s a somewhat disappointing development, particularly coming off his strong postseason showing mere months ago.

To Grundstrom’s credit, however, he’s actually managed to diversify his game significantly since coming from overseas full-time. These were necessary changes, too.

Perhaps the biggest knock on Grundstrom from the moment he was drafted back in 2015 was his one-dimensional nature – how he lacked any semblance of playmaking ability. The numbers back this notion up, too. Throughout the four seasons he spent in the SHL, Grundstrom finished with more assists than goals only once, in 2015-16, with 9 helpers coming in 49 games.

That no longer seems to be the case, judging by the returns from this year.

Grundstrom’s 16 assists in 42 games not only stand as a career high in that department, but they signify a newfound willingness for him to seek out passing lanes and adjust his instincts in order to find open teammates in lieu of simply bulldozing to the net.

This is a vital step for Grundstrom’s long-term projection at the level above – one the Kings’ player development staff will need to continue to nurture if he is to exact any value.

Where Grundstrom has diversified as well is in his ability as a scorer.

Many pegged Grundstrom on draft day to be more of a James van Riemsdyk-type, in large part due to his physical playing style and strong net-front presence. And while he undoubtedly fits both of those monikers, they also sell him short.

Since joining the Marlies full-time this past March, Grundstrom has begun to exhibit a lethal ability to attack off the rush. Improved footspeed, for one, has certainly helped in this area, but the true weapon at Grundstrom’s disposal is a blistering shot and quick release that routinely catches opposing goaltenders off guard.

Watch how Grundstrom barrels down in the clip above, needing barely half a second to wire the puck top corner with pinpoint accuracy before the opposing netminder even has time to drop down.

This has not always been a facet of Grundstrom’s game. It’s an important step forward – crucial to his longevity at the level above.

In front of the net, Grundstrom finds success not through muscling his way into clogged areas, but by creating and seeking out open space instead. He’s patient in his approach, content to hover around the periphery of the slot and wait for a hole to open by itself.

It’s this ability to weave into scoring areas undetected that stands Grundstrom above the rest.

In the clip above, watch how he draws one defender towards him in the slot, then starts to drift behind the net and summarily force that defender to either commit fully to him or the puck carrier. The defender’s choice is the puck carrier, of course, which allows Grundstrom to slip behind the defence, evade coverage, and open up a direct passing lane for himself back door.

Throughout this entire sequence, Grundstrom does not engage in physical contact with a single person. He’s a physical player, although the AHL happens to be littered with physical players. What grants Grundstrom NHL potential instead is how he manages to find scoring areas without the use of physicality at all.

Ceiling & Usage

For all of Grundstrom’s offensive skill, his ceiling still likely tops out as that of a productive third liner. Which, for a second-round pick, is not bad at all.

The primary reasoning for this is that none of Grundstrom’s tools is particularly dynamic. Most are fine, for sure. But while the list of things he’s simply good at is relatively long, the list of things he’s truly great at doesn’t really exist.

And dynamic qualities are required in launching productive AHLers into an NHL top-six.

For instance, Kasperi Kapanen produced at a similar points-per-game as Grundstrom’s throughout his first AHL season – 0.55 compared to 0.69 – but it was Kapanen’s dynamic speed that elevated him from an effective depth piece into one of Auston Matthews‘ and John Tavares‘s most coveted linemates.

The same goes for William Nylander – who put up a 0.86 in his rookie year.

Both of those players, along with a host of others, boast resumes littered with similar rookie scoring clips to Grundstrom’s. Where they differ is in dynamic skill.

This isn’t to say Grundstrom won’t be an effective NHL option in his specific role one day. And it certainly doesn’t mean that his departure won’t leave a hole in the Leafs’ prospect pool that will remain for years to come.

Rather, it merely symbolizes the ways in which this trade serves to benefit both parties.

By paying the price of Grundstrom, the Leafs were able to add the top-pair defenceman their blueline has lacked since, quite honestly, Tomas Kaberle. And in gaining Grundstrom, the Kings receive the type of young, cost-effective depth piece that may just save their roster.


Next. Top Ten Prospects Part Two. dark

Thanks for reading!

All footage & gifs courtesy of AHLtv.com

All salary information courtesy of capfriendly.com

All statistical information courtesy of hockeydb.com