Mikeal Granlund came in to this season looking to shake off a bad rookie season and prove that he was worth the hype. He went back to Finland and worked on his body, his skating, and his skills with Wild captain Mikko Koivu in Turku. Granlund has anchored the second line pivot spot ever since Charlie Coyle went out with a strained knee in the second game of the season. Some thought that he should have started the season in Iowa rather than Jason Zucker. Granlund has missed the past five games for what seems to be a concussion as the Wild have been pretty mum on the injury. Since number 64 has been out of the line-up, the Wild have skidded to 1-3-1 record in that span. After being the rookie bust last season, the Wild desperately need him back on the ice this season.
Jason Pominville hasn't been finding the back of the net as frequently without the puck-possessing Granlund in the middle of the ice creating time and space for the veteran (Pominville netted one last night). Granlund's creativity, patience, and vision on the ice was finding Pominville open and in high percentage scoring areas consistently to help catapult Pommer to the team lead in goals. Mikael has reaped the benefits of skating with the savvy vet and the gritty Nino Niederreiter by tallying two goals and ten assists for 12 points in 24 games this season. He only had eight points in 27 games all of last season.
Granlund also worked hard on his face-off skills this offseason. The Wild for the first month of the season were tops in the league in face-off winning percentage. His 50.4 percent (124 wins - 122 losses) was a big part of that. Since he left, Charlie Coyle has been abysmal in the dots. Coyle, has a really bad 37.1 face-off percentage (36 wins - 61 losses), which is probably a contributing reason for the Wild slipping in that category. Face-offs can directly lead to good-to-great puck possession numbers for a team, and Granlund has done well holding his own in the dots.
The defensive game as a young center was a cause for concern when fans pondered Granlund as the second line center over Coyle. Most thought that Mikael was more suited as a winger, but his work in his own defensive zone has been solid as well. On a number of occasions, Granlund can be spotted backchecking and disrupting the rush for the opposition. That doesn't show up on the score sheet, but he is a plus-4 so far this season after being a minus-4 last season. He is plus-3 in penalty drawn differential. His skating and possession in the offensive zone has led to more power plays for the team, giving the defensemen a break from the grinding minutes of 5-on-5 and penalty kills. Number 64 also has a PDO of 104.5 which may suggest that he was having some great luck, but the thing is, Mikael Granlund has been passing the eye test as well.
The point is, the Wild have sorely missed Mikael Granlund as the second line center. He has done all the little things asked of him and has even put points on the board. Granlund stabilized the lines and defined the roles of not only the players on his line, but also the three other lines. It allows Coyle to play the wing on the top line and Pominville to provide secondary scoring from the second line wing position. It stabilizes the third line that can be a real shutdown and energy-type of line (if they play the way they're supposed to), and the fourth line can be the bruising, hard-nosed line that can match up against the opposing team's goons (except for Fontaine, the guy is super versatile). Mike Yeo said he's progressing and did skate on Monday, but as of now we still do not have a timeline for Mikael. When you see how well he's played in his (techincally) sophomore season, the team and the fans miss him dearly on the ice.
[Headline and lyrics from the song "Mona (I Need You Baby) - The Rolling Stones]