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Helge Grans: 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile; A Project Offensive Defenseman

Malmö Redhawks defenseman Helge Grans looks like an intriguing prospect on the surface. He split time between the SuperElit and SHL as a 17-year old and put up a lot of points in the U-20 league. However, this profile looks at those who observed him more closely and reveal Grans to be more of a project of a prospect than at first glance.

When looking up and learning about prospects for the NHL Draft, one has to be willing to consider those who observe them closely. Those observations may reveal that the prospect who was quite productive has some issues with some aspect of his game that could keep him from succeeding at the next level. Or they may reveal that despite the lack of points, the prospect has all the right tools for the future and just needs to add strength and experience. Or they may reveal that a prospect looks great at an initial glance - but there is a lot more work to do than what met the initial eye. An example of the latter is the subject of today’s profile: Malmö Redhawks defenseman Helge Grans.

Who is Helge Grans?

According to his Elite Prospects profile, Helge Grans was born on May 10, 2002 in Ljungby, Sweden. Happy belated birthday to Grans. He is listed at 6’3” and 192 pounds, and he shoots right-handed. Grans began his hockey career as a member of IF Troja-Ljungby youth system before transferring to Malmö in 2017-18.

Last season was a big one for the young defender. At age 16, he split time between the under-18 team, the under-20 team that is in the SuperElit league, and even received five appearances with the men’s team in the Swedish Hockey League. Most of his games were with Malmö’s under-20 team, where he put up five goals and twelve assists in 34 games. He also represented Sweden at the under-17 team level. It looked like it was onwards and upwards for Grans. In 2019-20, it was. Despite being 17 for the season, Grans played only for the U-20 or the main Malmö squad. With the U-20 team, Grans put up four goals and twenty-three assists in 27 games. In the SHL, Grans played in 21 games, put up a goal and two assists, and averaged 9:41 per game. The defender even represented at the U-18 level for Sweden in nine games. The management of Malmö were impressed enough to give him a contract extension, which will keep him with the Redhawks through 2020-21.

At first glance, Grans’ 27 points in 27 games in the SuperElit looks really impressive. A closer look at the stats at Pick224 provides more context for his production. Grans does have one of higher primary point (goal and first assist) per-game averages among defensemen in this draft class. His 0.5185 rate is better than Lukas Cormier and trails Emil Andrae and Jamie Drysdale (!) in that category. However, it is boosted by the power play. Only one of his four goals and nine of his twenty-three assists were at even strength. Of those nine, only four were primary assists. His even strength primary point per game rate is a low 0.1852. Even among those seventeen power-play assists, only eight were primary assists. His power play primary point per game rate is among the highest in this draft class, but I do not know if that is anything to bank on. Secondary assists are not fake but they are not as repeatable, so it does call into question how much offense Grans was producing. Unfortunately, shot counts were not available for Grans at Pick224. And as Grans played 21 games in the SHL, it is possible that more games would have yielded a better picture of how he was producing at his level. It should not be ignored that he was producing all of that as a 17-year old in an under-20 league. I am just pointing out why it is not as impressive as it seems on the surface.

Where is Helge Grans Ranked?

Grans can be considered in that second or third tier of defensemen prospects in 2020, depending how you categorize them. What this means is that his rankings are mostly varied between the lower end of the first round and the second round - although a handful have him as a third rounder and beyond:

This is rather stunning. Depending on who you read, Grans either has a shot at being a late first or early second rounder or he is fit to be a third or fourth round talent. You may want to edge towards the former given there are more rankings in that fringe between the first and second rounds. Perhaps the only consensus is that there is no real consensus other than that Grans will be picked.

What Others Say About Helge Grans?

A good place to start is within this very network of blogs. Eric D of On the Forecheck has this excellent profile put together about Grans last month. It is supported by clips that support Eric’s observations and it is well-organized. Here are two points from his profile that I want to highlight, a positive and a negative:

Maybe the most important thing to note about Grans’s (#54 in white) style of play is his transition ability. The clip above comes on the power play, but Södertalje is employing an aggressive forecheck. Grans is typically patient with the puck as he plots his zone exits and often leads the puck out himself (as seen above) or makes his first pass near or shortly after the blue line.

The clips are in the post, but those clips show Grans succeeding at moving the puck in the right direction in terms of transitioning play. He handles the puck well and he constantly checks for his teammates for what to do to get the puck moving forward. Unfortunately, the negative is that Grans’ decision making has been suspect:

Outside of his skating, the most frequent critique of Grans is his decision-making. You may watch him in one sitting and see a confident puck mover and in the next, you’d see a turnover-prone talent. For all his skill, he’s not a rapid accelerator and can get caught pushing the puck too much leading to turnovers like the one above.

Eric D has a couple clips where Grans just loses the puck and, well, it is just not good. Eric pointed it to being an inconsistency and I can see that. He is a young player playing in U-20 or SHL hockey in Sweden. Mistakes can happen. However, I look at some of those turnovers and I just scratch my head at what he was thinking. Eric D does note that he thinks he’s “solid” on defense until it came to transition - which is where he can shine when he makes a good decision. He comes away fairly positive about Grans, but he did acknowledge the current flaws in his game and that he could very well be drafted somewhere between in the last part of the first round all the way to the third.

Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst, did not rate Grans highly at all in his March rankings. He put him 98th. Back in February, Kournianos made a list of the top twelve Swedish prospects in his view and he placed Grans tenth and wrote this about him:

Defensively, Grans is adequate in the most critical areas of defense — slot coverage; one-on-one play; penalty killing; crease clearing. He relies heavily on his quick first step and long reach to break up plays, but understanding where he’s needed most remains a work in progress. Grans is a bit of a floater from the slot and likes to join his partner behind the net or in the corners when his presence might be required in the low slot. For all his size, quickness and the aforementioned reach, Grans isn’t all that smothering when it comes to neutralizing one-on-one rushes, and he can be a little standoffish at his own line. The bottom line is that Grans is not an intimidating presence but makes up for it with quick transition and the ability to be sure on the puck when his team needs him to be.

Kournianos did have plenty of praise for his quickness, how he can help a power play, and such. But this kind of paragraph summarizes the concerns Kournianos had from his viewings. Despite his size, it reads to me that he may not use it to the best of his abilities. That is a concern. That Kournianos notes that Grans is not always where he needs to be in his own zone tells me that that Grans’ may have decision making issues in general and not just with the puck. This paragraph really hits on why Grans is ranked near the bottom of Kournianos’ list of Swedish prospects.

At Dobber Prospects, Jokke Nevalainen wrote up observations about his game back in January in Grans’ profile. Nevalainen observations are in line with the positives that Eric D identified but also the negatives that Eric and Kournianos found too. This part of the observations stuck out:

Grans is an offensive defenseman with great size and a right-handed shot which is always valuable. He is a great skater who glides very smoothly and is very good at using his edges. Grans makes very good breakout passes and he loves to join the rush. His passing skills are very good but he also owns a good shot, although he should use it more and work on his accuracy as well. Grans has a lot of room for improvement in his defensive game. He is far more likely to be used on the power play than on the penalty kill which speaks volumes about his strengths and weaknesses. But his biggest weakness right now is his decision-making which can be baffling at times. He can make good decisions with the puck most of the time but the mistakes he makes are massive and unexplainable.

Nevalainen came away with the same points about the decision making, which further confirms that it is an area of improvement for Grans. I do appreciate how he does note his offensive skills a bit more and offers a suggestion for further refinement. It does align with the production he showed in the SuperElit league this season. At the same time, the decision making issues could very well hold him back. Nevalainen comes to a conclusion that he could end up being a first rounder given his large frame and those offensive tools, and I get it. Although I have my doubts.

A Little Video

Apparently, the only videos about Helge Grans readily available at this time of writing are the clips Eric D used in his profile at On the Forecheck. So go there and read his excellent profile if you have not done so yet.

An Opinion of Sorts

Helge Grans is a prospect that on the surface seems like someone could reasonably argue is worth at least talking about in the late first round of the draft. Or even earlier depending on whether the team needs a defenseman. Grans just turned 18 and he was already listed 6’3” and 192 pounds. He can move quite well with that frame too. He is a right handed shot and it is a good shot. He put up quite a lot of points in the SuperElit league as a 17-year old and made over twenty appearances in the SHL. He is signed with Malmö for another season and then can possibly make the transition to North America. These facts alone make him very desirable. However, the more one looks closer, Grans becomes a less desirable prospect.

Yes, he has a large frame at such a young age. But he may not be using his size to his advantage at all times.

Yes, he put up a lot of points as a defenseman in the SuperElit league. But most of those points were on the power play and a good chunk of those points were not even primary points.

Yes, he has demonstrated some great work at moving the puck in transition. But he has also demonstrated he can make some rather bad turnovers and they happen enough to be notable.

Yes, he has been good enough on defense to warrant games in the SHL as a 17-year old and a contract extension. But his positioning and decision making in his own end leaves something to be desired as well.

Yes, Grans can move well on the ice and he can be downright shifty at times. But explosiveness is another issue and that could present issues if he has to recover on a play.

These “Yes - But” statements suggest that Grans is more of a project as a prospect than it seems at first glance. Whoever takes him will need to work with him to really improve his decision making with and without the puck. While I understand he was 17 throughout the 2019-20 season, I do not get the sense that experience alone will help solve those kinds of issues. If he does not show much improvement in that area while playing in Sweden, then it could really hinder his chances down the line in North America. If he can make strides in that aspect of the game, then he should be able to be a more effective player at both ends of the rink. Then, his assets as a prospect could very well shine. It will not necessarily guarantee him a NHL job, but his odds of getting one would improve. The point remains, whoever takes Grans is going to have to work with him and monitor him closely, perhaps more so than other defensemen prospects.

This also means we have to ask the question: If he is a project, then what is the best case scenario? An offensive-minded defenseman who can frustrate his own team with occasional errors? A defender who cleans up the turnovers but his overall game suffers because he is playing too safe? Does it seem like he would be more of a specialist instead of a player who could take on significant minutes? I do not know what the true answer is, but from my amateur standpoint, I am not sure that his ceiling is so high that he is a project worth taking on in the first round.

I’m less enthusiastic about Grans after reading what others say about him and looking closer at his production. As much as I can see the idea that he could end up in the first round, he strikes me much more as a second or even an early third round caliber prospect. If the Devils end up snagging a second round pick in 2020 somehow and if they want an offensive defensemen, then I would prefer they look to prospects like Lukas Cormier or Emil Andrae if they are there. If they want a project with a lot of potential, then I would prefer that they take a chance on William Wallinder. This is not to say that I think Grans is a bad prospect or anything like that, but there are more favorable prospects at his position and with his kind of role that the Devils should consider ahead of Grans. (Of course, if the Devils do not get into the second round, then it is moot.)

Your Take

I started this profile intrigued with Grans and ended it less enthused about him. That is how I see it. I would like to know your take. What do you think of his game? What about him impresses you the most? How much does his decision making concern you? If you have seen him play, what did you observe? Where do you think he will go in this year’s draft? If the Devils end up in the second round, is the player you want them to consider taking? Leave your answers and other thoughts about Helge Grans in the comments. Thank you for reading.