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The 2020 Draft’s Secret Sleeper for St. Louis

There’s one pick that might fall... and if he does, he could be perfect for St. Louis.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Mif Redhawks
Helge Grans’ home rink in Malmo, Sweden.
Photo by Bjorn Lindgren/NHLI via Getty Images

I know I’ve already done two articles on players that the Blues could pick up at 26th overall — including my inclusion in SB Nation NHL’s Mock Draft — but I’d be remiss if I didn’t write at least one more. The more the merrier on this wonderful Draft Day, right?

And while I stand by my selection of Brendan Brisson in the Mock Draft, there’s one player that could be an even better pick for the Blues. He’s risky and controversial... but the Blues might need Helge Grans.

Helge Grans Could Be a Must-Get at 26th

Helge Grans is a bit of a weird case. On the surface, he’s nothing amazing. He earns a title as one of the top-five defensemen from this draft class but that honor doesn’t carry the same weight it would in a normal year. After Jake Sanderson and Jamie Drysdale, there’s not many defensemen that a team should undoubtedly sink their teeth into. Kaiden Guhle needs to up his skating ability, Braden Schneider’s offense feels unreliable, and Justin Barron already has a bad injury histroy.

Grans is no different. He’s a really exciting prospect, for sure, but a lack of strength and aggression has kept a lot of scouts — myself included until recently — cautious. In fact, I ranked Grans 44th in my June top-50. On average, looking at over 90 rankings from some of the top names in hockey (and... me?), he ranks around 29th.

An Overview of Grans’ Play

I’ve spent the last week rewatching a lot of players and regretting my rankings, though. And while I don’t think I made too much of a mistake ranking Grans so low, he does deserve a first-round selection.

Grans has a really unique skillset. He’s 6’2” and 183 pounds, making him a fairly noticeable presence on the ice. Despite that, his skating is very smooth. He manages to have a low center of gravity, allowing him to turn on a dime and maintain a strong core.

He’s not particularly fast but with his methods, he doesn’t need to be. Grans is a solid-enough passer and has great shooting, both wrist shots and slap shots. He’s a very passive defenseman but, thanks to his shooting, his presence is never left out of any offensive-end situations.

Grans is just as strong defensively as well. He’s again not too aggressive or overpowering but he uses his size and stick to his advantage. Grans is always the favorite in one-on-ones and isn’t shy to big hits; which helps flaunt the strength that other areas of his game are lacking.

That’s about as much as I can say about him without diving 700-words deep. He’s a good two-way player who could rapidly, rapidly improve in the coming years or could simply flatline. Even in the latter scenario, he’s likely a strong bottom-pairing option in the NHL. And in the former situation, his ceiling could be as high as a top-30 defenseman in the league.

The Secret in the Stats

But Grans has one dirty secret... somehow, some way, all statistical models that analyze prospects are very high on the defenseman. Connor Jung — the mastermind behind APPLE — ranked Grans fourth in the entire draft based off of his model. Sam Forstners DART model was a bit further back but still took the over on Grans, ranking him 23rd. Either way, a lot of different models are demanding that Grans is worth more than most are ranking him.

Player cards for the APPLE model were released yesterday and give very exciting insight into each prospect’s projected value. For example, Grans is projected to become a “elite defenseman” by the model. And his point projections are even more exciting. Below is a screenshot from the APPLE model which shows where Grans is projected to play in over the next four seasons (represented by projections to the left) and how he’s projected to score in each season...

Helge Grans point projections per the APPLE model (@ConnorJungle).

This is... uh... some serious scoring for a defenseman. It seems outlandish to expect such a great performance from him, even in his rookie season. But then again, Grans scored 27 points in 27 games in Sweden’s U20 league this season and even managed two points in three SHL (Sweden’s top, professional league) games. That’s great scoring and numbers that definitely earn him a more serious look.

If Grans is able to score at the pace above, he’d be well worth the top-10 pick that varying models say he’s worth. That level of scoring would root him among some of the best young defensemen in the league and would seriously improve any lineup.

But it can be a bit tricky to place faith into statistical models that are so complicated. To get a better idea of why Grans is so highly favored, and what to expect, I spoke with Sam Forstner (whose great work can be viewed HERE) more in depth. He said:

I think it comes down to a few main factors. He’s relatively young (May birthday) and he’s big, which still matters quite a bit historically. Additionally, he split his season pretty equally between a high-end junior league (Superelit) where he scored at a point-per-game pace and one of the best men’s pro leagues (the SHL). Taken all together, my model in particular is less sure of his ability to make it compared to similarly ranked D like Wallinder or O’Rourke, but higher on his projected role and upside in the event that he does.

Why the Blues Need Grans

Sam’s answer makes a lot of sense. Grans is a young, highly-productive D out of Sweden — a competitive country. But Forstner also mentions that Grans’ praise should seemingly be taken with a grain of salt. He’s worth a first-round look but may be a riskier pick than some other options.

But... the Blues need to take that chance. They’re desperate for RD prospects. They currently only have five RD in their entire system: Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Robert Bortuzzo, Jake Dotchin, and Mitch Reinke. A sixth could be added if Alex Pietrangelo returns but that’s still very shallow, especially considering the youngest among them is Reinke, who is 24.

This is a weird juxtaposition to the team’s LD pool, which contains Vince Dunn (if re-signed), Scotty Perunovich, and Tyler Tucker; three players that are destined for top-line roles. The changing of the guard will be seamless on the left-side with so much talent. But it’s going to be extremely difficult on the right-side; with the team devoid of high-end RD prospects.

Grans would fix that, to say the least. He’s exactly what the team needs to make sure that their defense stays potent, especially if Pietrangelo ends up leaving town. Grans is a promising prospect who will definitely be available at 26th overall. His ceiling is sky-high and would net the Blues yet another tremendous blue-line prospect.

I know the point of the draft isn’t to draft positionally but instead to pick the best available player but... Grans just might be that. He’s well worth a late-first-round pick and could have a ceiling higher than any other defenseman in this year’s draft. Brisson is still my pick at 26th overall but there is a damn fine case to be made for Grans as well.