Through 13 games of the 2015-16 season, the Minnesota Wild find themselves tied with the Jets and Predators for 4th place in the Conference at 18 points.
With the way teams in the Central Division are playing right now, it is not too early to peak at the standings every now and again.
Injuries are beginning to pile up among the forward corp in Minnesota – the latest being Zach Parise, after an awkward hit courtesy of Nashville’s James Neal has him listed as week to week with an MCL sprain – so players who are struggling to find their game need to find ways to contribute. The buzz created Saturday night by the Coyle-Granlund-Pominville line shows promise. It is the trio’s timing that needs to be worked on going forward.
Ageism at its finest
Entering this year, high expectations shrouded young Finnish center Mikael Granlund. After a few injury laden and what some would call lackluster seasons in Minnesota, Granny seemed poised to finally breakout in 2015. Healthy, and fresh off signing a two-year deal that will pay him an AAV of $3 million (which was a priority for GM Chuck Fletcher to accomplish in the off-season), retaining his top-six role between Zach Parise and Jason Pominville had most excited to see what he could do in his fourth season with the club, especially considering management was not yet sold on his long-term role in Minnesota. Granlund had something to prove coming into 2015, and maybe even a chip on his shoulder. Finally, we all would see the true number one center come out of him on the ice.
Fellow Finn and leading point scorer in Wild history, Mikko Koivu, was entering his tenth season of his own with the team, sixth straight as the Captain. Koivu had seen his numbers steadily decline in recent years, causing fans to begin calling for his captaincy to be given to the native Parise, and Mikko’s role to decrease. Compared to the 23 year-old Granlund, there wasn’t much hype surrounding 2015 for Mikko. Yet Koivu remained poised as ever in a candid interview with the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo, excited for the season to begin and giving much praise to the future core of youth in Minnesota, all too much like a captain should do. Either way, most were ready for another very modest season out of the aging vet.
Certainly, these were two Finns heading in different directions in their respective careers. However, what was expected, compared to what has actually transpired through the early going for the Wild between these centers has some scratching their heads. Yet, at the same time should not come as a surprise at all.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”
That Charles Dickens fella…
Who would have thought, that Mikko Koivu would be playing at a point per game pace after a month-plus of hockey? Centering a line of Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker – both of whom are pacing themselves for breakout years – has certainly helped the cause. Just when we thought the Captain was slowing down for good in his career, he goes and has his best start to a year since the 2010-11 season when he scored 14 points through 13 games. While currently at 12 points through 13 games (3G and 9A), he also is sitting at a career high in Corsi For % in all situations at 57.7%. Even these numbers don’t do it justice as to how well his line is actually playing. The awareness and vision the Zucker-Nino-Koivu line has for one another is some of the best we have seen in Minnesota’s recent years past.
While much of the credit is being pegged on the young’ens Zucker and Nino, certainly, all is well for the 32 year-old Kaptain Koivu.
So what the heck is up with Mikael Granlund?
Maybe it is not the “worst of times” quite yet for young Granny, but surely the Wild need more and expect more from someone who is in the fourth year at the NHL level. He hasn’t exactly played bad per-se, but he hasn’t been good either. One of the biggest complaints here in the early going is his habit of holding onto the puck entirely too long, especially on odd-man rushes. It seems as is he is always looking to setup highlight goal material, rather than just getting the puck on net. We know you can be slick with the biscuit Granny, but please cut it out. His numbers do not reflect that of a top-six forward, period, let alone a true number one centerman that Wild management believe they have in him.
In fact, Granlund’s numbers over the past three years of play in Minnesota do not represent that of a top-six player at all, let alone a true number one center. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Granlund fan myself, but it is important not to get caught up in the flash and pizazz of a few great plays Granny has made during his time with the Wild, and evaluate his numbers as a whole, which have been, mediocre at best.
So who actually is the Minnesota Wild’s number one center? What should scare the Wild most? Well Koivu has three years left on his contract, and undoubtedly will not play at the level he is playing at right now for all three of them. So who replaces him in the future if this is the type of play you are receiving from your “future” Koivu-esque player? We are only 13 games in to the season, so maybe we should not rush to call for Granlund’s head. But honestly, I am not sure how long we should be required to wait for the results that are desired, and/or able to be attained on Mikael Granlund’s part.
Jon Nomland is a Journalism student out of Colorado, and currently a Minnesota Wild contributor for The Hockey Writers. When not engaged in Wild hockey, he enjoys following the Philadelphia Flyers due to his Pennsylvania roots.