“Grunny works hard, he does the right things, the little details and he shows up every game.”
Pretty good assessment there from Phillip Danault about forward Carl Grundstrom, who is off to his best start to a season as an NHL player.
Grundstrom has been with the Kings organization now since 2019, when he was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in January. Grundstrom went on to make his NHL debut with the Kings in early-March of that year and he’s now played NHL games with the Kings in six consecutive seasons. When you see it listed out like that, you see a pretty linear development path for a player who has grown and evolved, but it hasn’t been quite that simple.
In fact, it wasn’t until this season that Grundstrom has cemented his spot in the lineup each and every night. His current linemate, Trevor Lewis, was among a small group of players who were on the team when Grundstrom broke into the NHL. Seeing him now, as an every-night regular, Lewis has noticed a noticeable difference in the Swede.
“I think it’s just confidence and I think that’s with any player,” Lewis said of Grundstrom. “The more ice time you get, the more games you get, the more confident you get. Todd’s shown trust in him and that helps a lot too with building it.”
As Danault mentioned earlier, there’s the hard-working element of Grundstrom’s game and that always comes with a player who plays in – and embraces – a fourth-line role. That mindset has always been there. Grundstrom plays hard, he’s heavy on the forecheck and he usually plays within himself and the system.
Dating back to his first shift at the NHL level, we’ve always seen those things from Grundstrom.
“He works his butt off, he’s kind of a straight-line player and he gets in on the forecheck,” Lewis added. “It seems like if we get him puck, anywhere with a shot, it’s got a chance to go in, he’s got such a good release. He’s playing really well.”
He’s also always had the second part of that quote from Lewis, which is the hard and heavy shot, even if it hasn’t really translated into offensive production.
When he originally joined the Kings organization, skating first with the Ontario Reign, his abilities with the puck were clear right from the get-go. This was a player with a very good wrist shot, a shot that was more than capable of beating goaltenders straight up. In the NHL though, while he had his spurts, it never really translated into regular production. Last season, Grundstrom scored a career-best 12 goals, in a career-high 57 NHL games. Solid numbers for a player who rarely played off of the fourth line, but not exactly staggering figures.
16 games into the 2023-24 season and Grundstrom is on pace to blow past those numbers. With six goals already in the early goings, just two shy of the team lead, Grundstrom is not only working hard but he’s producing on top of it.
“Carl’s a great player, I think everybody knows that, and this year is no different,” linemate Blake Lizotte said. “I think he’s just executing a little more, he’s always in the right spots, trying to make the right play, and I think this year he’s just been able to execute those plays at a higher level than maybe in years past.”
Always in the right spots is a way of saying hockey sense and that’s something that has come up a few times when asking Grundstrom’s teammate about his game.
The tools have always been there for a player who skates well, hits like a truck and can beat a goaltender with the best of them when he gets a clean look. While he’s not an elite skater, he ranks in the top 20 percent in the NHL in top skating speed and speed bursts over 20 MPH this season, per NHL Edge data. While he’s not one to take a ton of slap shots, his average shot speed is also in the top third or so in the NHL.
Carl with a Swede one pic.twitter.com/67InIjJZtU
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 20, 2023
This season, he’s scoring more goals, perhaps in part due to getting more chances all over the ice.
Grundstrom’s per/60 totals in terms of shot attempts, scoring chances and shots on goal are all currently at the highest rates of his NHL career. Sample size, sure, but it’s a good supporting metric that shows he’s not just lucking into higher production, he’s creating it. In terms of when he’s on the ice, Grundstrom has been an over 50-percent player for almost all of his career, but he’s now doing it this season at levels we haven’t seen before.
All a part of the evolution he’s showing as a player.
“He’s creating the space to get the shot off,” forward Trevor Moore said of Grundstrom. “I think he’s playing such a good, 200-foot game right now that it’s more than just shooting the puck. Watching his whole game, he’s playing great.”
Moore would be one to know.
The pair came up through the Toronto system together, playing together in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, winning a Calder Cup as teammates in 2018. Both players are comfortable with each other on the ice and though they are not currently linemates, Moore has seen Grundstrom’s development over the years, as he’s into the player we’re seeing in the early stages of this season.
“I’ve said it before, he’s just a really hard-nosed player, but he has really good hockey sense, a great skillset,” Moore added. “He shoots the puck as good as anybody and we’re seeing it this year when he’s putting the puck in the net.”
As his production has risen, there have certainly been questions asked regarding whether Grundstrom has perhaps earned an opportunity higher in the lineup.
It’s a fair point, as Grundstrom’s play has perhaps merited that, but doing so would also break up a line that Todd McLellan has regularly referred to as “money”. It’s a line Grundstrom is comfortable on, and productive on. With that in mind, expect to see him where he’s at right now.
“Grunny gives us everything he has, all the time, I think he’s in a perfect spot right now,” McLellan said. “The last thing we want to do is screw around with Grunny, with what he’s given us. Him, Lizzo and Lewis are money. We count on them night after night to get the job done.”
That trio has been perhaps the most consistent line for the Kings through their first 20 percent of the season.
They’ve created an identity for themselves and they’ve stuck to it each and every night. As it relates to Grundstrom, he’s gone through most seasons in the NHL not knowing if he’s be playing each night. No longer. Having that line consistency has given Grundstrom, and his linemates too, the opportunity to know what they have in front of them each and every time they come to the rink. They can just go out there and execute.
“They show up and they know that they’re going to play and they know that we, not just the coaching staff, but the team believes in what they do,” McLellan added. “They often set the standard for the grit and work part of the game and others have to live up to it. If they can keep doing that, it’s a real valuable thing for our group. They’re money, they have been all year. I feel really good about the three of them together.”
Grundstrom and his linemates will look to continue their strong start to the season tomorrow, as the Kings head to Arizona to complete their season series against the Coyotes. Full coverage to follow from the desert!