The rookie season of Mikael Granlund, much like the young 2013 NHL season for the Minnesota Wild, has not gone perfectly to plan. The 20-year old was considered to be one of the hottest rookies entering the NHL this year, but by many expectations and standards he has under-performed. Despite his detractors and even suggestions that he might be better being sent back to the AHL; a keen eye should observe that Granlund has earned coach Mike Yeo’s trust and patience.
To say that expectations were high for Mikael Granlund is actually something of an understatement. He is the most promising draft pick to come through the Minnesota organization since Marian Gaborik starred for the team in the early 2000s.
Granlund was drafted ninth overall in the 2010 NHL Entry draft after scoring 40 points in 43 games in SM-Liga. The SM-Liga in Finland is one of Europe’s top leagues, arguably third after the KHL and SEL. Granlund’s performance as a 17-year old was fairly remarkable. He backed it up with 36 points in 39 games before later impressing in the 2011 Championships scoring nine points in nine games for Finland.
Wild fans were starting to get excited about their top forward prospect and then he really emerged as one of the brightest young stars outside of Europe. He scored 20 goals and 51 points in 45 games for HIFK Helsinki in 2011-12, finally signing a professional entry level contract with Minnesota in May.
Despite the 2012 NHL Lockout, Granlund’s North American professional career could hardly have gotten off to a better start. He won the AHL player of the month award and racked up 21 points in 21 games for the Houston Aeros all but booking his place in the Wild’s opening night line-up.
It looked like his trend of seemingly unstoppable success was set to continue in the NHL when he notched his first career goal just 4:19 into the second period of Minnesota’s opening night win against the Colorado Avalanche.
Still, Yeo voiced concerns about the rookie’s all-round game that night and Mikael Granlund would only post two assists through the next 10 games. During that time he bounced around Minnesota’s line-up playing center or wing on just about every line and even spending one night as a healthy scratch. He now has three assists in his last three games, but before this spell the speculation over a possible demotion had grown, especially with the likes of Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker as possible promotion options from the AHL. Even bearing that in mind, there should not be speculation about his place on the NHL roster.
Granlund has definitely looked like a player adapting to the NHL game and he will probably benefit from adding more muscle mass over the summer. However, writers and bloggers extending those points and using them to suggest that a stint in the AHL would benefit the Finn have not been watching his development closely enough.
There have never been questions about Granlund’s skill set and he has shown off his skating, stick-handling and playmaking ability during the young 2013 NHL season. There’s little doubt that he can compete physically as well. Granlund has boosted his physical game as the season has progressed and has shown a desire to compete and is winning more and more board battles.
Granlund’s problem has been competing physically and executing his skills while also keeping up with the pace of the NHL game. He was thrust into a position of huge responsibility as the team’s second line center. He was unable to generate offense and wasn’t helped by some slow starts from his veteran line mates. Consequently, Yeo has shifted Granlund between the second, third and fourth lines and between center and wing. In the last game he played center on the fourth line between Mike Rupp and Torrey Mitchell. This is pretty standard as a development path for young forwards and it is encouraging that he has generated offense in several different situations.
He is looking more and more comfortable in the flow of the game and will probably continue to be used in lots of different situations by Yeo as the coach tries to find his best combinations. This isn’t an indication that Mikael Granlund needs to play at a lower standard. In fact, it is very much an indication that he is finding his feet at the higher standard.
Seb has been writing about the NHL and ice hockey online for over a decade. A long-time passionate Bruins fan, it’s a dream of his to be writing about this team, but don’t expect him to hold back from telling some hard truths when necessary. Follow him on twitter @seberead