Over the course of the next month, Konopkaesque will review each player who suited up for the Wild this season, with a few exceptions. 1) They had to play at least ten games during the season and/or playoffs (sorry, Brett Bulmer, Carson McMillan and John Curry) and 2) they had to finish the season as part of the organization, which ironically excludes the man for whom this blog is named, among others.
So, without further blathering, here’s today’s subject:
Mikael Granlund, C, Age 22
Remaining contract (per capgeek): 1 year, $900,000 Entry-Level Contract (RFA in 2015)
Games: 63 (Regular Season) 13 (Playoffs)
Goals: 8 (Regular Season) 4 (Playoffs)
Assists: 33 (Regular Season) 3 (Playoffs)
+/-: -3 (Regular Season) +3 (Playoffs)
PIM: 22 (Regular Season) 2 (Playoffs)
ATOI: 17:19 (Regular Season) 18:01 (Playoffs)
What Did He Do?: Put to rest any fear that he wouldn’t be able to play in the NHL, for starters. After that he starred at the Olympics, became the first line center for the Wild, galvanized a stretch run, and then scored a Bobby Orr-style game winner to jump-start a team that was 2-0 down in a playoff series. Other than that, nothing.
Remember a season ago when Granlund look like a lost fawn? Come playoff time he was buried in Houston, and had to beat out Jason Zucker just to make the team out of training camp. Early season returns were mixed, with Granlund having on and off nights, but at least he wasn’t skating around clueless while we all covered our faces and said “oh s__, he’s a bust.”
Honestly, part of Granlund’s struggles in 2013 were our fault. For three years we all heard about his exploits in Finland, how he was one of the best players in the World not playing in the NHL, and we conveniently forgot about the fact that he was only 21 years old and was jumping up about eight weight classes in coming over to the NHL. He needed time to learn, and he finally got it. The 2013-14 Wild were far better off because of this.
Granlund was excellent once he returned from his concussion in late December, and amazing from the Olympics on, generating great chemistry with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville while briefly usurping Mikko Koivu as the no. 1 center on team (they seem to co-host this gig now, but you have to think that Granlund is the man moving forward). Most enjoyable was to see the consistent scoring that Granlund provided. From Dec. 22nd until the end of the regular season, Granlund was never held scoreless for three consecutive games, though his longest scoring streak was oddly only five games.
Granlund is the Wild’s best pure playmaker since a pre-concussion Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and shares several other qualities, not all good, with PMB as well (more on this below). During the season his deferential tendencies were at times frustrating, and it was encouraging to see him score four times in a brief playoff run. He also provided the second-best moment of the season with his solo effort in game three against Colorado. Even though Niederreiter’s winner will always be the climax to any 2013-14 Minnesota Wild highlight reel, Granlund’s dogged effort may have been the most important goal scored by a Minnesota player all season.
What to Expect if You’re Expecting: Expect Granlund to keep trending up. A 15-20 point improvement, assuming health, should be a realistic baseline projection for next year (remember, he gets 19 more games in this scenario). Granlund could start by becoming more selfish. Yes, he will always be a playmaker first, and he played with established, veteran goalscorers all season, but his unwillingness to take even high quality shots several times this season nearly caused me to kick my television. The playoffs were better, however, as Granlund averaged nearly a shot more per game in the postseason (2.69 vs 1.65). Certainly a small sample size, but given that he scored half as many goals in 13 games during the playoffs as he did during 63 regular season games, he may have noticed (finally) that you have to shoot to score.
And now, the worrisome part. Granlund went on IR this season with an “upper-body” injury (read: concussion) in November, and again when he tried to bulldoze the much larger and sturdier Jarret Stoll late in the year, making it back just in time for the playoffs. Granlund’s inability or unwillingness to avoid big collisions has me worried that he will Bouchard himself at some point, hence the comparisons above. Remember, this is a player that dealt with concussions even before he arrived in North America. He needs to learn that this is not Finland anymore, and Saskatchewan farm boys are A) much larger than the average SM-Liiga player, and B) trying to put you through the boards, not just knock the myriad advertising patches off your cluttered uniform.
I’m going to start carrying a copy of this book with me at all times, and if I see Mikael around town, I’m going to give it to him.*
Trade Prospects: For this section, I’m going to start judging trade value by how drunk an opposing GM would have to get Chuck Fletcher before he’d be able to talk him into a potential deal. For Granlund, I’m going to have to go late-era John Bonham. At that point we’d probably just need a new GM.
Season Highlight: Let’s just breakdown Granlund’s top 3 playoff moments.
#3 – Granlund’s beautiful goal in game 3 vs. Chicago. Bonus points for sad panda Chicago fan at 56 seconds:
#2 – Mikael Granlund’s shot-blocking party. Game 4 vs. Colorado. Stick optional.
#1 – Like you don’t know. All this video is missing is Wayne Sanderson.
*If nothing else, read the reviews of this book. They will change your life.