Just about everything has gone perfectly for Mikael Granlund in his hockey career so far. Or at least everything went right until he got into the NHL. One of the world’s most promising young hockey players stumbled and stuttered when offered the opportunity to be a top nine forward with the Minnesota Wild. It was an opportunity that most people expected Granlund to grab, but he didn’t. The chances are that the 21-year old will have an NHL roster spot to lose once again come September/October. So how will the 2013-14 season pan out for arguably the organization’s top young talent?
What happened in 2013?
Granlund was not only expected to grab a roster spot when the NHL returned for a shortened 2013 season. He was basically gifted the second line center role playing alongside Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi straight out of a quick training camp. Granlund was considered absolutely crucial to the offensive depth of this team providing depth behind the a top heavy first line featuring Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley. It seemed like 21 points in 21 AHL games was enough to convince Wild management that Granlund was in a place where he can learn on the fly.
It certainly started pretty well as Granlund scored a goal in the very first game of the season against the Colorado Avalanche. That didn’t prove to be a sign of things to come. Head coach Mike Yeo was not rewarded with a player capable of offering that all important depth scoring.
Granlund struggled to establish himself both in terms of struggling for time and space offensively at NHL level and in terms of his commitment to other aspects of his game. The Finnish forward was bounced around the line-up from center to wing and onto just about every line before finally finishing the season back in the AHL with the Houston Aeros while rookie wingers Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker took on key roles.
Still, there were positive signs for Granlund’s all-round game in later appearances. He engaged physically and showed his lower body strength applying himself more effectively. He now knows exactly what it takes to play this level and that will be invaluable when it comes to training camp ahead of the upcoming season.
Slow Development In NHL Prospects Is Fine
We are watching NHL hockey in an era where young 18/19 year old players are stepping straight into the league and finding immediate success. However, that’s still doesn’t need to be the norm. Mikael Granlund is used to upsetting expectations. He stepped straight into adult SM-liiga hockey and made an immediate offensive impact. He traveled across to North America and stepped straight up at AHL level (which many players struggle to do).
Granlund’s development curve is still looking perfectly good. It was very clear in his appearances for the Wild that he possesses tremendous offensive talent. It was also clear that in later games he displayed a greater commitment to the defensive side of the game and more frequently embraced and even initiated physical contact. Those are all promising signs.
It is possible that the former first round pick will still need to spend more time in the AHL either for a part of, or even the whole of the 2013-14 season. It won’t be a problem or a concern for the Minnesota franchise if that ends up being the case.
Mikael Granlund Has Great Opportunity
Granlund won’t enter training camp guaranteed a 2013-14 roster spot. However, on a forward group that is expected to undergo an overhaul due to salary cap implications, he has a very good chance to find a place somewhere on Yeo’s top three lines.
Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck are all out of contract on a team that will be tight against the salary cap, probably has two blue line spots to fill and need to re-sign or replace starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Turning to youth on the forward group is going to be very tempting for General Manager Chuck Fletcher at this point.
Those considerations also exclude the potential for expensive forward Dany Heatley to be removed from the roster via one of the team’s compliance buyouts granted to them by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. [See also: Dany Heatley: Should The Minnesota Wild Use A Compliance Buyout On Him?]
Granlund will have a great shot at a roster spot again in 2013-14. It will be interesting to see what the next chapter holds for one of the Minnesota Wild’s brightest prospects and future stars.