Derek Grant slotted in last year at twenty-fourth overall (here is what I wrote about him then), but this year has dropped one spot. It may seem off for Grant's stock to fall as his play has improved, but it's important to remember that the group of players around him has grown and, ideally, improved. I would caution you not to read too much into the slight decline, as Grant's overall standing in the organization has improved. Indeed, Grant's spot on this list is a testament to how he has remained relevant in the conversation of future NHLers in the organization amidst a competitive group.
Center / Ottawa Senators
April 20, 1990
After a statistically lame first season, Grant has found a new motor in Coach Richardson's system and become a very useful player in the AHL. Last season was his first as a professional hockey player, and it was a fairly inauspicious debut. Touted for his two-way ability, the tall center failed to make much of a mark on the offensive side of the puck and his defensive vision and intelligence was undermined by the fact that the team as a whole struggled mightily last year. Coach Kurt Kleinendorst evidently believed there was much room for improvement in Grant's game and, on a significantly less competitive roster than has been iced this season, Grant was sat as a healthy scratch for portions of the season.
On the surface, Grant's missing impact was curious. Though Ottawa sports a logjam of players who project into third and fourth-line specialty teams and checking roles, Grant was touted as being unique among them, most notably for a keen hockey sense and a strong, if not spectacular, all-around skill-set. Grant seemed like the kind of player who should flourish in the AHL: not the fastest player, but with enough speed to burn some slower defenders, decent hands and a good knowledge of the game. But, for whatever reason, it didn't happen. We would see flashes of Grant's reputed ability, but had to rely on mentions of his earlier career as a means to look for promise in the future.
From the outset, this season has been a different one for Grant. He has been an important cog in Luke Richardson's team, playing in all situations. His offensive ouput has spiked, particularly whilst on the penalty kill. Yes, you read that correctly. Grant has eleven goals, five assists, which is good for sixteen points. Though he has slowed down of late, he has put up four shorthanded tallies.
What has been the reason for the turnaround? Well, it could be maturity. Or, it could be the coach. Richardson knows the defensive side of the puck well, where Grant excels, but even more than that, here is what Richardson said when he was hired:
"In the last few years, if players had maybe a little bit of trouble in their game... The coaches maybe barked at them a few times and their confidence is low."
Kurt Kleinendorst was a good coach and a championship-winning one for this organization, but Richardson was obviously endorsing a different approach with his players from the first press conference. And, for whatever reason, Derek Grant has thrived under new management. Grant's totals have earned him a three-way tie for seventh overall on the team's scoring charts, knotted with rookie Mark Stone and fellow sophomore Corey Cowick.
Gone from the team are numbers 1, 2 and 4 ahead of Grant. The promotion of Jakob Silfverberg will have the biggest impact on the team's offense, but don't expect Derek Grant to assume a role on the top line. Rather, Grant's spot in the lineup shouldn't change much. He will likely remain as the centreman on Bingo's third line, flanked by David Dziurzynski and last year's college free agent signee Cole Schneider. Where he might see a bump is on the penalty kill, but it is unlikely to be too significant. Luke Richardson is going to try and roll three scoring lines, depending on Jean-Gabriel Pageau to center a defensive checking fourth line.
Grant's spot on the roster for the rest of the season meshes fairly will with his best-case projection in the NHL- as a bottom-six forward who is a strong skater and capable over all of the two hundred feet MacLean likes to play. "So when," you ask me, "can he start?" The road is difficult for Derek Grant with the Senators, and though I can only speak for myself, that likely had an impact on how the writers here at Silver Seven ranked him in the Top 25.
First, Derek Grant needs to leapfrog several current roster players for the Senators, or see them move on from the organization. The top-six for Ottawa is staggeringly young and its centers are currently Zack Smith and Jim`O'Brien. His tall stature and defensively responsible and aware nature have him less suited, at least in my mind, to a position on the wing, especially with other speedy grinders capable of filling in. For the time being, it appears as though Zack Smith has a secure home on the third line. Jim O'Brien's spot is probably more tenuous. Still, Derek Grant faces a tall order: he needs to outperform roster players, fighting for one spot. More than that, he needs to show the organization his worth is greater than players like training camp invitee Mike Hoffman. Tough gig.
Mike Hoffman has a good two-way game. Subjectively, his defensive awareness is lesser than Grant's, but his offensive skill is enough to offer sufficient tertiary scoring for an NHL team. As a result, Grant needs to work with his coach to remain the prized pony on special teams, a beyond-competent player on the penalty kill who can shut down top players on opposing teams. Grant has strengths, but the team is too crowded in the bottom-six for Grant to be truly offered opportunities. In a very real sense, Grant is going to have to earn his chances.