The first person to predict that Carl Grundstrom was going to fall back to earth was Carl Grundstrom.
The rookie left wing knew better than anyone that the phenomenal start he had with the Kings – a goal in each of his first two games – was memorable, and it wasn’t going to last. Grundstrom found that out in the ensuing three games when he recorded one shot on goal as NHL defenses quickly did their homework on him.
But it’s a good sign for Grundstrom and the Kings that the 21-year-old has both the understanding of his adjustment to the NHL and the tools to perhaps have a significant career.
“Of course, when you come into the league and you play the best players in the world, it’s going to be a little bit tougher,” Grundstrom said. “But I’m getting more comfortable out there.”
Grundstrom went into Saturday’s game against the Ducks with the confidence from one of his better games on Thursday. Against the San Jose Sharks, Grundstrom had two quality scoring chances that were stopped by goalie Martin Jones. He also took a hit from defenseman Brent Burns at the end boards on the same shift — another part of getting welcomed to the NHL.
Grundstrom wasn’t fazed by it, which speaks to his rugged power-forward style. The chances he has seen at wing, with Swedish countryman Adrian Kempe as his center, are a glimpse of the future for Grundstrom, the primary return piece from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Jan. 28 trade of Jake Muzzin.
“He was clearly a guy we targeted, and he was very excited about it,” Kings assistant general manager Michael Futa said. “I think we did a good job of breaking him in with [Ontario Reign coach Mike Stothers] and he’s come up and he’s got his opportunity.
“But I think he’s got to find his niche. He’s going to play. It’s refreshing, his attitude. You can start to see good chemistry with Kempe, which is nice. But, again, when you’re having the season we’re having, to see a kid come up and provide that kind of spark and that kind of energy, it’s huge for us. It’s got to be contagious.”
Futa took note that Grundstrom took a run at Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf in his NHL debut. Futa also noticed a recent practice when Dustin Brown spent some time working with Grundstrom. It was a telling sign for a veteran like Brown to do that with a rookie.
“You can tell,” Futa said, “… that they see he’s got that kind of attitude.”
Grundstrom’s hulking style has drawn comparisons to Brown, known for his hard-nosed edge near the boards and in the crease. The two are roughly the same size and body type, and Grundstrom was often described in scouting reports as an agitator. The aforementioned work ethic was also a common theme, and that should go long way toward Grundstrom’s development.
“I think, as a young guy, he’ll learn the league as he goes,” Kings interim coach Willie Desjardins said. “I’ve been happy with his play. He’s a good two-way player. I think that he can score. I think he plays hard in front of the net. Lots of good things I see in his game.”
Grundstrom’s first two goals arrived on his first two shots in the NHL. But it’s what happens from here on out that matters.
“You don’t get nothing for free,” he said. “I have to take every chance you get.”
Ryan Getzlaf and Nick Ritchie sat with upper-body injuries and the Ducks recalled Sam Steel and Kiefer Sherwood … Jonny Brodzinski returned to the lineup for the Kings while Ilya Kovalchuk and Dion Phaneuf were scratched as Desjardins used 11 forwards and seven defensemen.