Kuzma: Granlund grinds out demanding shutdown role in contract season

 

 
 
 
 
Markus Granlund hasn't had much offence to celebrate this season.
 
 

Markus Granlund hasn't had much offence to celebrate this season.

Photograph by: JONATHAN HAYWARD, The Province

Travis Green wants players he can with win. Can he win with Markus Granlund?

“We’ll find out,” said the Vancouver Canucks’ coach. “I hope so. Like any of our younger players, the onus is on him.”

Green is buoyed by the manner in which Granlund has embraced a shutdown role. He had a career-high 19 goals last season while playing with Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

He also had damaged wrist ligaments that bothered him all season but never complained. He taped up the wrist and soldiered on before the pain was so great that he required surgery March 21.

The procedure followed a 10-shot attempt outing two nights earlier in quest of the 20-goal plateau. It spoke to his compete level and ability to produce in pain and it’s why Granlund was hoping to be aligned again with the Sedins.

However, a more defensive role in a contract season is physically and mentally demanding.

Granlund is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Being responsible while also killing penalties doesn’t resonate at the bargaining table as much as goals and assists. Gaining a sizable increase on an expiring two-year, US$1.8 million contract is going to mean being more gritty than a goal scorer.

Granlund has played the power play and two of his seven goals have come with the man advantage, but being on pace for just 11 heading into Thursday’s meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks isn’t lost on the versatile forward.

“You want to score — everybody looks at the statistics,” said the 24-year-old Granlund who had just 11 points after 49 games. “It’s a tough role when you start your shift in the D-zone. It’s a long way to go to the other end, but if you want to win games you’ve got to have players like that.

“We’ve talked about it. I know where I’m at right now and I know what he (Green) wants from me and I’m OK with that. I think I can play every role and that’s a key to being a good player in this league.

“And obviously, I want to play here. We’ll see.”

Green wanted to establish four-line balance in his first NHL season. He flirted with Sam Gagner, Loui Eriksson and even Nikolay Goldobin as pre-season fits for the Sedins and opened the season with Thomas Vanek flanking the Swedes.

This was all before B.B.B. — Before Brock Boeser — and his early emergence only solidified Granlund’s roster stature.

Granlund was an early and effective fixture on the left side with Brandon Sutter and Derek Dorsett on a shutdown line that had the potential to score in transition. Dorsett did. He had seven goals in 20 games before being forced to retire Nov. 30 with health issues.

Granlund has also centred Vanek and Gagner, worked between Brendan Gaunce and Jake Virtanen, played wing when Nic Dowd was acquired and has been reunited with Sutter.

He’s doing what’s expected. But chasing the game in a shutdown capacity and having wavering effectiveness that saw his even-strength Corsi percentage plummet to 45.4 per cent, which ranks 21st on the club, hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“He’s in a spot this year that is beneficial to him and I kind of slotted him where he can succeed,” reasoned Green. “He’s a jack-of-all-trades. Have I been thrilled with his game every night? No. He’s playing better of late and that doesn’t always equate to points.

“We’re going to push him. I want him to be tenacious, to be skating and be on the puck. When he’s skating, he gets places and wins puck battles.”

Sutter thinks Granlund is a winner because it’s difficult to play against top lines.

Forcing them to play in their own zone and to consider a shift where the opposition doesn’t score — or the shutdown line doesn’t take a penalty — a victory that doesn’t show up in the highlight reels takes mental maturity.

“It’s kind of a rarity when you can play any role,” said Sutter. “That’s huge. And playing with him is great. With certain players, you can’t base their value on goals and assists. He brings so much more to us and I think he’ll be fine going forward with the contract stuff.

“From the outside, people see an offensive guy who wants to score goals, but he can play any role he’s put into and the team understands that.”

OVERTIME — Erik Gubranson returned Thursday after missing six games with back spasms. Derrick Pouliot also returned after sitting out six of the last eight games because of indifferent play and an injury that Green didn’t disclose. Ben Hutton and Alex Biega were scratched. “He (Pouliot) had an injury that was affecting him, but I’m not going to use that as an excuse,” said Green. “He wasn’t playing well enough and the injury had something to do with it, but his game also slipped a bit.”

Bkuzma@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/benkuzma

NEXT GAME

Thursday

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks

7 p.m., Rogers Arena, SNETP, SNET 650 AM

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Markus Granlund hasn't had much offence to celebrate this season.
 

Markus Granlund hasn't had much offence to celebrate this season.

Photograph by: JONATHAN HAYWARD, The Province

 
Markus Granlund hasn't had much offence to celebrate this season.
Travis Green wants Markus Granlund to be better at hounding pucks, winning battles.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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