He’s playing out of position, but Mario Grman is just happy to be playing at all.
Brent Sutter hasn’t been able to find much ice time for the rookie defenceman this season, but with Evan Polei and Conner Bleackley out with injuries, the Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach used the 17-year-old up front during Sunday’s 6-2 loss to the host Victoria Royals and was impressed with the Slovakian’s performance.
“He played extremely well for us,” Sutter said Thursday. “He brought us an element we’ve been missing since Polei’s been out, and with Bleacks also hurt you’re taking two of your bigger forwards out of the lineup. He (Grman) brought us that physicality and against a team that has a lot of guys who play that way.
“He played well. I was proud of him.”
Grman had no problem with shifting his skills to another position, despite the fact it presented a whole new challenge.
“It’s pretty different than defence, but I’m happy that I got a chance from the head coach and coaches that I can play on offence,” he said. “I try to play hard and skating more.”
Grman, whom the Rebels selected in the second round of last year’s CHL import draft — first-round pick Hugo Jansons, also a defenceman, was released in November — appeared in his 20th WHL game last Sunday.
The six-foot-one, 190-pound rookie import has two assists to his name and has also racked up 26 minutes in penalties due to his fondness for playing a rugged style.
“I like play a physical game. I like hard hits,” he said.
Grman has been used sparingly on the blueline, understandable considering the club’s depth and experience on the back end. But he hasn’t expressed any bitterness despite watching more games than he’s played.
“He’s handled it all pretty well,” said Sutter. “Obviously he’s a little bit discouraged by where he is on our depth chart as far as our defence is concerned. Our top five guys are our top five guys and with Strander (Austin Strand) and Josh (Mahura) we’re tying to make sure we can keep both of them going.
“So it’s kind of put Grms on the outside a bit. But I talked to him and his agent about moving him up front and seeing if he could handle that. To be quite honest, as coaches we feel that he might turn out to be a better forward than a defenceman.”
Grman, who will be back on a forward line tonight and Saturday against the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes and Prince George Cougars, insisted he hasn’t been overly frustrated with his inability to draw into the lineup on a consistent basis.
“I’m not disappointed,” he said. “It was pretty hard because when I was going here I thought I want to play a lot of games, but I still waiting for a chance because I am a rookie, almost the youngest man. I’m still trying to work hard and do everything.”
As for the possibility that he might be employed as a forward as long as he’s with the Rebels . . .
“I never think about that, but yeah, it’s a good position,” said Grman.
The possibility exists that the defenceman-turned-forward won’t be a member of next season’s Memorial Cup host team.
“That’s a decision that will be made in June,” said Sutter. “He’s either going to be coming back or he’ll be traded after June 15. Or if a trade isn’t made and we give him a chance to play somewhere else in the CHL, then we’ll release him. It’s going to be one of those three scenarios.
“The one thing I do like about him is that he’s a real great competitor. He’s got a great compete level and he’s not afraid. If we can get him going at forward and see how it turns out for him . . . that’s a nice thing to have — a guy who can play both positions if you need that.”
If Grman can continue to impress up front for the remainder of the season and Sutter doesn’t see a sure thing in the second round of June’s import draft, the Slovakian could very well be back with the club next fall.
“The other thing he has going for him is his age,” said Sutter. “He falls into that wheelhouse where he’s 17 years of age. As we all know, the (import) draft is a crapshoot.
“Obviously we’re going to take a European with our first pick, and if we don’t think there’s someone there (in the second round) who can give us an element that Grms gives us, then Grms will be staying.”
Grman would certainly welcome the opportunity to suit up with the Rebels next season.
“I’m happy here. I like Canada so much,” he said. “I like Red Deer and I like the Red Deer Rebels. Everything is good.”