These days, it’s pretty much impossible to write about the Anaheim Ducks and avoid mentioning the wave of injuries that has plagued them in the early part of this season.
With numerous key players missing time or having missed some time earlier in the year, the Ducks have had to rely on their healthy players to elevate their roles. They’ve also had to have lesser-known players see significant ice time.
One of those players is 27-year-old center Derek Grant. The relatively unknown Grant has been a significant contributor to the Ducks’ ability to stay afloat with a .500 record while they await the healthy returns of others.
Well-Traveled Grant Granted an Opportunity
Grant had actually appeared in 86 career regular-season NHL games before signing a one-year, $650,000 deal with the Ducks this past offseason. A fourth-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2008, Grant suited up for 25 contests for them across the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons before moving on to Calgary for 15 games with the Flames a couple of years later. Then, last season, he appeared in 40 total games with the Buffalo Sabres and six with the Nashville Predators.
Having bounced around quite a bit, Grant appeared to have found some stability last year after making the Sabres’ opening-night roster, but after picking up just three assists in 35 games, Buffalo placed him on waivers, whereby the Predators then claimed him. Funnily enough, the Preds waived him shortly after that, and it was none other than the Sabres who reclaimed him.
Given his history, Grant’s signing in Anaheim seemed like it would probably be just another quick and unremarkable stop along his long hockey journey, a depth move for the Ducks that would likely be more important for their AHL affiliate San Diego Gulls than for the actual NHL-level club unless emergency struck.
Well, emergency has indeed struck. The Ducks’ injury woes have granted Grant an opportunity unlike any other he’s had to this point. Anaheim needs him, and to much surprise, he is delivering.
Grant Filling the Stat Sheet
A decent scorer in the minor leagues, Grant could never bring that to the NHL level. Now, however, he is perhaps proving to be a late bloomer with the Ducks.
Somehow, in his 86 career NHL games before this season, Grant had never scored a goal. On top of that, he had only picked up seven career assists. His fortunes have changed in Anaheim.
Through 14 games with the Ducks, Grant has picked up the first three goals of his NHL career (plus a disallowed goal after an offside review) and has added five assists. Goals-wise, that’s an infinity-percent increase from his previous career totals (strong math skills required for that calculation). Points-wise, Grant already has more this season (eight) than he had had for his whole career (seven). That’s an increase of 114 percent.
Grant cites a couple of factors as contributors to his newfound offense at the NHL level, including learning the defensive side of the game first and then being able to focus on offense again more recently in the minor leagues. Then, of course, he’s gotten an opportunity to play meaningful minutes with some talented players.
“Obviously, I was always an offensive guy,” said Grant, referring to his pre-NHL career. “And through juniors and college, same thing. My first couple of years pro, I had to learn the defensive side of the game. And then obviously my last couple of years in the minors, I’m able to find my game offensively again.
“Watching me, I’m not doing anything fancy or anything like that. I’ve been playing with pretty good linemates so that helps a lot. Obviously Kaser (Ondrej Kase) and Ritcher (Nick Ritchie) are two pretty good players that I’ve played with for a while.
“And then (Jakob) Silfverberg, he has the ability to put the puck in the net from anywhere.”
Besides his unforeseeable scoring, Grant has been solid in the faceoff circle, winning 52.8 percent of his draws. In terms of advanced metrics, the depleted Ducks, as a team, have understandably struggled from a possession standpoint and have relied on strong goaltending and opportunistic scoring. As such, Grant’s expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) of 46.44 during 5-on-5 play might seem unimpressive, but it looks good relative to the team’s xGF% of 44.50.
As the Ducks eventually get some regulars back into their lineup, Grant’s role might diminish or even disappear. But for now, he has given the Ducks an unexpected boost and has helped them to a 6-6-2 record that is better than anything they could have hoped for given how much the injury bug has hurt them.