LONDON, ONT – About a month after he helped Skelleftea capture the Elitserien title, Leafs prospect Petter Granberg was victorious again, this time as one of the youngest members of the Swedish national team, who tasted gold at the World Championships on home soil in late May.
"I had a pretty good year," the soft-spoken Granberg told TSN.ca with a grin from the team's annual rookie tournament in London.
A fourth-round selection in 2010, Granberg is worth keeping an eye on with NHL training camps rolling around in less than a week. The six-foot-two, 200-pound defender may not possess the wow-inspiring theatrics of fellow prospect Morgan Rielly, but nonetheless has a chance to contribute with the Leafs when all is said and done this season.
"Sometimes it's not always the flashiest guy on the ice that can make your team better," Dave Morrison, the Leafs director of amateur scouting explained to TSN.ca earlier this week. "You do need that skill, there's no question, you have to draft skill, but skill comes in different formats and Petter has his own skills that we hope are going to help us."
A meat and potatoes defender in the mold of fellow Swede and current Leaf Carl Gunnarsson – though perhaps more willing and robust in the physical department – Granberg is a player unlikely to garner much attention, his game predicated on a quiet, responsible performance in the defensive end.
"That's why I think when you look at a guy like Petter, I think it would lead one to think that he might get [to the NHL] a little sooner than later," said Morrison of Granberg, who also won gold at the World Junior Championships in 2012, "but again every case is different and he's going to have acclimatize himself both off the ice and on the ice."
The Leafs picked Granberg (first name pronounced PEH-TER) with the 116th overall pick in 2010, urged to stray in his direction by two of their North American scouts, Garth Malarchuk and John Lilley, the pair citing a "strong, responsible" game as rationale for the selection.
"As you get deeper into the draft and you're not at the top end anymore, you look for players who have NHL potential but maybe in different ways," Morrison explained of the mindset at that latter stage in the draft. "Maybe they're not those big scorers or those defencemen that take the puck from one end of the ice to the other or the goaltender who can steal a game, you have to find other players that can be maybe top defensive defenceman, those types of guys that maybe don't stick out as much in the earlier rounds.
"Petter's one of those guys," he continued. "He was a guy that our [scouts] felt had those defensive qualities that could potentially make him a real strong player for [our] team and a guy that could really help you win."
Granberg made the jump to Toronto from his homeland of Sweden in late August, one among a promising batch of blueline prospects here in London for the rookie tournament.
While he's expected to participate in training camp next week and will compete for an NHL job at the outset, Granberg is likely to begin the year in the American Hockey League with the Marlies – having never played on the smaller ice surface full-time – though his development curve could speed up if his transition to North American hockey proves seamless.
"I've developed a lot of things back in Sweden so I feel ready to take the step over here," said Granberg, who logged over 18 minutes a game for the gold medal-winning Swedes.
A hopeful comparable for Granberg, Gunnarsson proved a quick study when he made the leap from Sweden in the fall of 2009. Then 22 (and slightly older than Granberg), Gunnarsson required just 12 games with the Marlies before he was recalled by the Leafs, playing upwards of 20 minutes nightly as a rookie in 43 games. His progression has been just about ideal for the organization, the now 26-year-old defender and seventh round pick earning a new three-year contract with the club this past summer.
Each development pattern is unique though and Granberg will ultimately dictate his ascension up the organizational ladder through his performance and acclimation to the game on this side of the pond.
"We'll see how fast he's able to do it," Morrison said, citing patience as a requirement for any prospect. "It might take him a year and a bit. It might take him two months.
"At this point we're excited to see what he's going to do in the next month."