Wild fans have waited a long time for their highly touted prospect out of Oulu, Finland to make his way to the NHL. After being drafted with the 9th overall selection of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Mikael Granlund has been on the State of Hockey's radar with fans becoming more and more anxious like a kid on Christmas eve, we have waited, and waited.
Granlund made his Wild debut in the 2012-2013 NHL season, but fans were not treated to the impressive show they had promised themselves. Granlund would play just 27 games for the Wild during the regular season, notching a pair of goals and just 6 assists. In his time up with the Wild you could see he was outmatched. His small size allowed the opposition to knock him off pucks easily as he tried to adjust his game to a smaller ice sheet with bigger and faster competition.
As the season ended, the questions about Granlund were left unanswered. Would his game translate to the NHL? Can he survive as an undersized forward in a fast, physical sport? And just where was his beautiful Lacrosse-style goal anyways?
With Granlund's second season in a Wild sweater, you could tell almost instantly that things were different. The kid has more awareness on the ice, he's been better able to absorb the crushing hits (sans Nazem Kadri goonery) and despite his lack of shooting the puck, he has been instrumental in setting up numerous goals for Jason Pominville this year.
It was not until the Olympic break when we got a taste of what this kid can do. With all the lights of the world shining down on Sochi last February, and the pressure of representing his home country of Finland, Granlund was spectacular. It certainly doesn't hurt him that he was line-mates with the living legend in one Teemu Selanne, but Granlund elevated his game on the big stage notching 7 points (3 goals, 4 asst) during the Olympic break, helping to earn Finland a bronze medal and him a spot on the Olympic All-Star team.
After the Olympics, and leading up to the final turn before the playoffs Granlund would be sidelined for the second time this season with another "upper-body injury" which has become the Wild training staff's code word for concussion. With the Wild trying to clinch a spot in the playoffs, Granlund's future was uncertain.
Fortunately for the Wild, they would clinch the 7th seed and Granlund was cleared to play prior to the playoffs and has once again shown his ability to elevate his game on the big stage. Although Granlund struggled through much of his 1st NHL playoff game in Colorado, he would not take long to find the spark he needed reaching the highest level we've seen of him in a Wild uniform in just the last couple games.
Game 3 at the X, Granlund was in full-on beast mode. In nearly 20 minutes of ice time, Granlund brushed off would be Colorado defenders, auditioned for Nascar by literally skating circles around the offensive zone, and ripped 7 shots at the Avalanche goal, the last of which scoring the game-winner in overtime and will go down as one of the prettiest goals in the franchises playoff history.
During "The Shift 2.0", Pomminville would force a turnover behind the Avalanche goal where Granlund would take over. Granlund would skate behind the net and end up getting forced outside by Jan Hejda. He avoids taking a big hit from Hejda and scoots through the slot to push a puck past Semyon Varlamov.
Did I forget to mention the part where FBJ pushed the puck in, while sliding across the ice on his side? It really doesn't get too much prettier than that folks. Through a ton of traffic, being taken down and the kid still has the wherewithal to get his stick on the puck.
Last night in game 4 at the X we were treated to more of the same as Granlund continued to frustrate the Avs. The team as a whole played out of this world, only allowing the Avalanche 12 shots on goal all game. That's right, 12 shots. Feel free to take a second and be impressed with that part of the score card.
Granlund would once again find the score sheet last night, earning the 2nd assist on the Wild's 1st goal off the stick of Jared Spurgeon. He was all over the ice, all night, brushing off hits and post whistle muggings like swatting flies off your shoulder. Although the Wild were only able to convert on 1 power play out of 4 last night, 3 of those power plays came courtesy the Avs tripping, hooking and cross-checking in their attempts to slow Granlund down.
In the waning moments of last nights action, and Colorado down by a goal, Avs bench boss Patrick "clip-on tie" Roy would pull his goalie with well over 2 minutes remaining. It was crunch time, and the Wild could not break as they did in game 1. Granlund was instrumental in shutting down Colorado's chances. After Jonas Brodin took a hooking call against Paul Stastny with just 2:14 left in regulation, the Wild would face a full 2 minutes of 6 on 4 hockey.
Granlund would end up losing his stick even, but that would not stop the kid from turning into a brick wall. He would block 3 shots in the final moments effectively killing off the penalty as the Wild would grind out a win to even the series up at 2 games a piece. Now being dubbed, "The Shift 3.0", Granlund is starting to shine as a very bright light in these playoffs.
With playoff hockey, you expect the quality of competition to be better, the game to be faster, and the hits to be relentless. Mikael Granlund has found that next level. He has for the most part, been spectacular. Just as we saw in the Olympics, Mikael Granlund takes his game to a new level when the pressure is on. He has responded to every situation and is excelling through tough situations. He is not afraid to put the game on his stick and drive to the dirty areas, take the abuse and keep a level head about him. Right now, Granlund is seeing the game at half-speed, making for a very exciting playoff season for your Minnesota Wild.