At this point in time, it’s a dead heat between “Frequent Flyer” and “Casualty of the Numbers Game” in laying claim to being the most recurring themes of Alex Grenier’s playing career to-date.
After he fell into the Gillis regime’s open, waiting arms as a sizeable overager named Alex in the 3rd round back in ’11, Grenier has bounced around from league-to-league, and city-to-city. Since his half-year European escapade was cut short due to a myriad of unfortunate circumstances – including a concussion he suffered, and an influx of established NHLers trying to find refuge during the lockout with Red Bull Salzburg – he has suited up for 3 different teams in his short professional career in North America.
In fact, he has yet to be able to call a place “home” for more than one year at a time at any point in his career. That’ll surely change this coming season, as Grenier enters the ’14-’15 campaign with lofty expectations following his breakout showing as a rookie in the AHL. Maybe he’ll even get to shift the aforementioned working narrative to “Productive Hockey Player” if he’s able to build on that personal success he enjoyed last season.
It’s not often that you see a player – particularly one that isn’t a journeyman, veteran-type – go from being buried in the ECHL to thriving in the AHL over the course of one season; though in Grenier’s case, the only reason he needed to do so in the first place was because of the unfortunate and tumultuous union between the Vancouver Canucks and their AHL affiliate that particular year.
He was one of a handful of Canucks prospects to be relegated to the ECHL in ’12-’13 as the Chicago Wolves, looking out for their own best interests instead of serving as an optimal breeding ground for the Canucks, opted for an older, more seasoned (to put it nicely) look to their lineup.
And that’s why It was just this past year that Grenier, at the age of 22 (set to turn 23), finally got his first real look on the AHL scene with the Utica Comets. It was a largely successful one, as there’s a legitimate case to be made that Grenier – despite flying under the radar because of the copious amounts of attention being given to teammate Nicklas Jensen – was the best Canucks prospect on the team from start to finish during their inaugural season:
In registering 17 goals and 22 assists in 68 games last season, Grenier finished 20th in goals scored amongst AHL rookies, and 26th in total points. Based on the limited underlying data we have to work with, it doesn’t seem like any of that output was percentage-driven, either. Judging from the highlight package above, he used his massive 6’5” frame well to set up shop around the net, with most of his goals appearing to come from close range.
I spoke to the Utica Observer-Dispatch’s John Pitarresi about what he saw from Grenier in his extensive viewings of him last season:
“I really liked this kid. He has great size, great reach, he’s very strong and I’m sure he will only get stronger. He’s listed at 200, but I think that’s an awfully low figure personally. In any case, I think he could carry 220 eventually, with ease.
He can really shoot it and became something of a presence down low on the power play as the year went along. He also showed a few tricks – he scored a couple of goals getting off shots in traffic that made you shake your head in disbelief. A knock against him has been his consistency, and rightfully so, because it seemed like he did go long stretches without scoring.
Travis [Green] changed his lines up constantly, so I think that might have depended on who he was with – if you played with O’Reilly or Pelletier, you were going to get some chances, with others you probably had to make your own, and he is less likely to be able do that.
I honestly thought he’d get a look with the Canucks, just so they could see what he could do, but I guess they didn’t need anyone at his position or maybe they thought he was too raw. I would like to see how he does against the best. I’ve heard him described as a “late bloomer”, and that sure seems to be the case. Overall, I think his size is a huge plus, and he can finish.
Given the revolving cast of characters that suited up for the Canucks as the year went along and the injuries piled up, it was certainly somewhat curious that Grenier didn’t at the very least get a cup of coffee with the team at some point or another. But as has continued to be the stigma that plagues Grenier, his defensive capabilities remained shoddy last season. While his skillset on the offensive end of the ice is unquestionably burgeoning, the liability he presented on the other end is ultimately what likely kept him from getting his first taste of NHL action last season.
Further to that point, our own Josh Weissbock found that, despite his ever-so-cushy deployment (in which he essentially faced the easiest competition out of any regular forward), Grenier was still on the ice for a large chunk of 5v5 goals against and as a result wound up with an unseemly On-Ice Rel. Goals For % (-3.23%).
In speaking with ESPN’s Corey Pronman, he was of the mind that Grenier’s defensive issues are a real concern, but ultimately not one that’ll prevent him from potentially contributing in a sheltered, scoring winger role one day.
While Grenier certainly received his fair share of minutes in Utica’s top-6 and first power play unit last year, it’ll be interesting to see whether he’ll be able to take another step next season by optimizing those minutes as the talent around him gets better. If he does, he’d imaginably be one of the first names to be considered for a call-up should another rash of injuries plague the Canucks. Though for now, I’m sure he’ll relish the opportunity for some semblance of continuity for the first time in his career.