Russian forward Nail Yakupov folds as Swedish defenceman Petter Granberg drives him into the boards during first period action of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships preliminary round on December 31, 2011 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.
Photograph by: Colleen De Neve/Calgary Herald, Postmedia News
Toronto — Shortly after their prospects camp ended last week, Toronto Maple Leafs director of amateur scouting Dave Morrison sent out an email to coaches and management within the organization to share his excitement regarding the team’s drafted players.
“You’d be happy with what you saw here,” he wrote.
One player, in particular, stood out. He was steady in his own end, physical when he needed to be and generally looked like a man among boys. According to Morrison, he was about as NHL-ready as they come.
No, he was not talking about Morgan Rielly. While the fifth-overall selection of the 2012 draft has a legitimate shot at making the team out of training camp next season, another lesser-known defenceman might actually be what head coach Randy Carlyle is looking for to fill out his top six.
His name is Petter Granberg. And if you do not yet know the name, you soon will. Granberg, who turns 21 next month, has won a world junior championship, a world hockey championship and a Swedish Elite League title with Skelleftea. He is looking to build on that success with the Leafs.
“I think Petter’s going to put himself in that position,” Morrison said. “How soon is tough to tell, because until he actually gets into North American action, you just don’t know. I would say all the ingredients are there to get there, so it might not take long at all.
“Put it this way: he was on the top pairing with (Alex) Edler (against Canada at the world championship) and they played most of the game against (Steven) Stamkos’s line.”
Granberg, who Morrison calls a “meat and potatoes” type player, is built in the same mould as former Leaf Luke Schenn. There is nothing flashy about his game. He will not rush the puck up the ice or skate out of a position to deliver a big hit. But the six-foot-three, 209-pound defender, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, is someone coaches can trust to defend a one-goal lead and make life miserable for opposing forwards.
During the world tournament in May, when he was the second-youngest player on Sweden’s roster, Granberg was used in a shutdown role. In last week’s prospects camp, he was paired with Rielly in scrimmages, and the two were the perfect combination of skill and strength.
“I like the physical game. It’s no problem to me,” Granberg said. “I like to be the hardest player to play against. But it’s a different game on the small rinks, so you have to adapt.”
The transition from playing in Europe to North America could take time. For that reason, it is likely that Granberg will start the season with the Toronto Marlies. But with the Leafs looking to offset the amount of puck-movers on the roster, do not be surprised if he finds a way onto the roster.
Carlyle prefers low-risk defencemen he can trust. It is the reason why Mark Fraser, Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer all won spots in the lineup ahead of Jake Gardiner and John-Michael Liles, and the reason Rielly, another offensive defenceman, might be returned to junior this season to round out his game and get more experience.
If that happens, Granberg could be the stay-at-home type Carlyle is seeking.
“Petter is a PK guy, he’s 5-on-5, 4-on-4,” said Jim Hughes, the Leafs director of player development. “He’s a pure defender.”
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