Cage Match: Brayden Schenn vs. Mikael Granlund

by Rick Roos on June 6, 2018


Last summer I deduced that the peak age for forwards in today’s NHL is between 27 and 28 years old, and it so happens that both of this week’s combatants (Brayden Schenn and Mikael Granlund) will be 27 before the end of the 2018-19 season. So does that mean they still have room to improve, or have we already seen the best from both? And who’s the better own for 2018-19 and beyond? Never fear, Cage Match is on the case!

Career Path and Contract Status

Schenn was drafted fifth overall in 2009 by LA, and proceeded to dominate upon his return to juniors that same season (99 points in 59 games). The 2010-11 campaign saw Schenn play for two different WHL squads, plus eight games with LA and seven in the AHL, only to get dealt in the offseason as a key chip in bringing then star Mike Richards to LA. The Flyers made Schenn an NHL regular right away; and starting in 2013-14 Schenn’s scoring began an upward trajectory, from 41 points to 46, then to 59 in 2015-16, with 44 of those 59 points coming in his final 45 games. But visions of a him parlaying that torrid spring into a breakout failed to materialize, as Schenn’s production fell back to 55 in 2016-17, and yet again he was traded – this time to St. Louis. In 2017-18, Schenn easily established a career scoring high, although his 70 points was seen as somewhat of a letdown after he emerged with 40 points in his first 37 games.

Granlund was selected ninth overall in 2010 and came stateside for 2012-13 after two cumulative point per game seasons overseas. He flourished in the AHL during the lockout, with 28 points in 29 games, then had a middling eight points in 27 NHL contests once the lockout ended. Still, that, plus the state of the Wild forward corps, was enough to secure an NHL spot for Granlund, and he showed he belonged, with 41 points in only 63 contests in 2013-14. That, however, would represent his scoring rate high until 2016-17, as Granlund disappointed with 83 points in 150 NHL games spread over the next two seasons. Then in 2016-17 he finally broke out with 69 points, and in 2017-18 didn’t miss a beat with 67 points in only 77 games.

Both players are inked through 2019-20. Schenn’s contract represents the slightly better bargain of the two at $5.125M per season (versus $5.75M for Granlund). Each will be an unrestricted free agent when his current deal expires.
 

Ice Time

Season

Total Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

2017-18

19:44 (B.S.) – 1st

18:47 (M.G.) – 1st

3:12 (B.S.) – 3rd

2:30 (M.G.) – 1st

0:33 (B.S.) – 10th

1:55 (M.G.) – 2nd

2016-17

17:48 (B.S.) – 5th

18:49 (M.G.) – 2nd

3:45 (B.S.)- 1st (tied)

2:11 (M.G.) – 4th

0:01 (B.S.) – 10th (tied)

1:30 (M.G.) – 2nd

2015-16

16:54 (B.S.) – 5th

18:07 (M.G.) – 3rd

3:32 (B.S.) – 3rd

2:37 (M.G.) – 3rd

0:01 (B.S.) – 12th

0:34 (M.G.) – 7th

2014-15

17:05 (B.S.) – 5th

17:54 (M.G.) – 4th

2:59 (B.S.) – 4th

2:10 (M.G.) – 5th

0:02 (B.S.) – 11th (tied)

0:26 (M.G.) – 10th


For years in Philly, Schenn bounced between being a top line winger, second line center, and even on occasion a third line pivot. The result was lower overall ice time, but still a stranglehold on a coveted PP1 spot. That changed big time this season, with him stepping into the unquestioned #1 center spot for the Blues. Although that meant an immediate two extra minutes per game of ice time above his best average from the previous three seasons, it also came with newfound shorthanded duty (albeit only 33 seconds) and a drop in power-play time versus recent trends. We’ll have to see how Schenn’s offensive zone starting percentage was affected, since it’s possible the added ice time might be less of a blessing than it seems if what it meant was tougher minutes. That also might be one explanation for Schenn hitting a wall when it came to scoring, with only 17 points in his final 27 games after producing at exactly a point-per-game level over the first half (41 points in 41 games) and having been a consistently better second half player in the past.

Although Granlund’s overall ice time trend looks good at first glance, what with two seasons of increases and then holding steady last season, he’s actually been shedding productive minutes with each passing campaign due to increasing shorthanded duty. Moreover, although his overall and power-play ice time were tops among Wild forwards this past season, they were 43rd and 81st respectively among all 70+ game NHL forwards last season despite his points per game ranking him 37th and his PPPts putting him 46th, suggesting perhaps he benefitted from unsustainable puck luck.

The positive news is Granlund was able to score at essentially a 70+ point pace for two consecutive seasons despite such circumstances. That, of course, goes a lot longer toward proving legitimacy than one season of doing so; however, it’s not unheard of for unsustainable good fortune to stretch beyond just one campaign, so we’ll have to look closely at Granlund’s luck metrics to see if poolies can count on continued production at (let alone above) this level going forward.
 

Secondary Categories
 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.68 (B.S.)

0.23 (M.G.)

1.88 (B.S.)

0.61 (M.G.)

0.45 (B.S.)

0.58 (M.G.)

2.56 (B.S.)

2.50 (M.G.)

0.23 (B.S.)

0.24 (M.G.)

2016-17

0.48 (B.S.)

0.15 (M.G.)

2.39 (B.S.)

0.61 (M.G.)

0.53 (B.S.)

0.61 (M.G.)

2.25 (B.S.)

2.18 (M.G.)

0.35 (B.S.)

0.24 (M.G.)

2015-16

0.41 (B.S.)

0.24 (M.G.)

2.33 (B.S.)

1.04 (M.G.)

0.37 (B.S.)

0.69 (M.G.)

2.22 (B.S.)

1.95 (M.G.)

0.27 (B.S.)

0.13 (M.G.)

2014-15

0.41 (B.S.)

0.29 (M.G.)

2.41 (B.S.)

0.69 (M.G.)

0.46 (B.S.)

0.66 (M.G.)

1.90 (B.S.)

1.45 (M.G.)

0.23 (B.S.)

0.11 (M.G.)


If you’re surprised Schenn is the better of the two when it comes to physical categories, chances are you need more help in your league than this column could provide. That being said, Granlund’s hits output was a bit more than I’d expected, although apparently as he’s become more of a scorer he’s focusing less on that area. Still – that’s probably a tradeoff poolies are willing to accept.

One the plus side for Granlund, his PPPt scoring rate jumped in 2016-17 then held steady this past season. My take is that provides still more legitimacy not just with respect to his scoring jump over the past two campaigns but also its ongoing sustainability or even potential for further gains.

Meanwhile Schenn’s SOG increased significantly to match his points spike, so that too is a good sign. Yet he shed some PPPt scoring, although I see that as less of a concern since whereas his power-play scoring in past seasons had been propping him up, his spot on the #1 even strength line in St. Louis means he needs to rely less on PP scoring to produce well overall. It’s also a benefit to know he’s capable of more when it comes to the PP, which in turn indicates he has room to increase his scoring with St. Louis still further, assuming his luck metrics check out nicely, and we’ll look at those next.
 

Luck-Based Metrics
 

Season

Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %

2017-18

13.3% (B.S.)

10.9% (M.G.)

8.3% (B.S.)

8.97% (M.G.)

67.3% (B.S.)

74.4% (M.G.)

63.0% (B.S.)

43.0% (M.G.)

27.6 (B.S.)

29.0 (M.G.)

45% (B.S.)

43% (M.G.)

2016-17

14.0% (B.S.)

14.7% (M.G.)

7.13% (B.S.)

10.52% (M.G.)

61.8% (B.S.)

71.1% (M.G.)

55.7% (B.S.)

37.8% (M.G.)

25.1 (B.S.)

28.1 (M.G.)

43% (B.S.)

28% (M.G.)

2015-16

14.6% (B.S.)

8.1% (M.G.)

8.02% (B.S.)

5.72% (M.G.)

67.8% (B.S.)

67.7% (M.G.)

52.3% (B.S.)

59.4% (M.G.)

25.4 (B.S.)

28.9 (M.G.)

42% (B.S.)

42% (M.G.)

2014-15

11.55 (B.S.)

8.1% (M.G.)

6.45% (B.S.)

9.02% (M.G.)

58.0% (B.S.)

56.5% (M.G.)

56.4% (B.S.)

60.1% (M.G.)

23.3 (B.S.)

30.8 (M.G.)

27% (B.S.)

19% (M.G.)


Schenn owners can’t like this, what with an IPP in each season below the 70% threshold normally associated with a star scorer. Beyond that, his team shooting percentage number was likewise less than the 9% normally considered the average for scoring forwards. It gets worse – this table only shows the past four seasons; it was more of the same in the 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14 seasons – no IPP over 70% and no solid 5×5 team shooting percentage, so this has been a career-spanning issue for someone who is now a veteran of 515 NHL games.

Collectively, this paints the picture of a player who doesn’t have a nose for scoring and might even be an impediment to production. After all, while Schenn had his best statistical season, his frequent linemate Vladimir Tarasenko had his worst since breaking out. Coincidence? Consider that in 20 games missed by Jaden Schwartz, who was a frequent third member of a line with Tarasenko and Schenn, Tarasenko had 15 points while Schenn had 13, meaning both produced worse than their overall scoring rate. As such, it might be Schwartz who’s the key cog in the wheel that is this line, and Schenn indeed a drag.

Also, as noted above, one key was to look at Schenn’s OZ%, and sure enough it was higher than in any past season. This is good since it means he’s not taking the ice in non-scoring situations, but it also begs the question as to why his scoring dropped as the season wore on.

The data for Granlund is reassuring overall, especially the fact that he followed up a 10.52% team shooting percentage with an entirely reasonable 8.97%, without shedding any points. Moreover, his OZ% rose to 43%, which, while still low, is trending higher and also lends more legitimacy to his scoring output over the past two seasons. But perhaps the best data for Granlund is his IPP, which is steadily (but not significantly) increasing with each season and was above the key 70% threshold in each of his breakout seasons. Overall, this paints the picture of a player who is every bit a 70+ point scorer and could even have another gear if his OZ% rises or if he experiences productive ice time gains, both of which, although not assured, are within plausible reason.
 

Who Wins?

It’s not easy to criticize a 70+ point player, but I think it’s deserved in the case of Schenn. His IPPs and 5×5 team shooting percentages throughout his career aren’t those of a star, and it’s entirely possible (especially when looking at the lower production from both him and Tarasenko while Jaden Schwartz was hurt, plus from Tarasenko overall) that Schenn held back his line from even better production. Also, Schenn’s production lagged as the season wore on despite a high OZ% and solid minutes.

In contrast, Granlund has produced at a 70+ point pace despite a not great OZ% and ice times that lag behind what other top scorers receive. But having done so for two straight seasons and amid an IPP that has risen by a reasonably amount for three straight campaigns, putting it above the key 70% level in each of the last two, lends legitimacy to his scoring and even leaves realistic room for further gains.

In one-year points leagues, I’m taking Granlund, especially since he’s arguably less of a “name” as Schenn. And although Schenn shines in multi-cats, he also comes with an added cost in such leagues, and that cost could be too high to justify overall. In keepers I’m looking to sell Schenn once he hits a hot stretch, since I don’t think he has the makings of a consistent 70-point player, while I might make a play to acquire Granlund if he’s owned by a still disbelieving GM in your league.

 

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