An interesting thought came up during some heated discussions: what do we do with Granlund?
The skills is there, we all see it. Some great vision, good stick skills, thinks quickly. But Granlund is still adjusting to the North American style of play, which means smaller spaces and more physical play.
He started the season playing as the team's second line center. But when the team struggled to find offensive output from its lines the second, third, and fourth lines, Head Coach Mike Yeo had to change things up.
After a bit of tickering, Mikael Granlund now finds himself on the fourth line.
And with years for experience seeing what playing fourth line minutes can do to prospects (see Colton Gillies and James Sheppard), we have to be cautious.
But Granlund's case is special. In the Gillies and Sheppard cases, they seemed to never improve playing the fourth line, meaning they should have been sent down to develop their skills. But Granlund seems to improving every game, no matter where he plays.
And with Jason Zucker's spectacular play last game on the 2nd line, there is no room for Granlund at this current time. So the dilemma stands, do we keep him playing 8 minutes a night in the NHL where he still shows improvement or do we send him down the the AHL to play 20+ minutes a night but against lower tier talent?
Keep Him Up In The NHL
Granlund's main struggle isn't skills. Unlike many prospects who need time in the AHL to develop further, Granlund is already a top notch prospect.
What he lacks however is the ability to keep his feet moving to avoid getting caught by defensemen, to learn to attack the offensive zone with energy, and to reach quicker to the smaller spaces.
Does any of this really require the AHL? Playing fourth line minutes will cure these problems with no problems.
In fact, sending him down to the AHL might be counterproductive as it will force Granlund to be accustomed to a slightly slower pace and a slightly less talented opponents.
Perhaps what he needs isn't 20+minutes a night, but 10 minutes a night playing against some of the meanest and most talented checkers in the NHL.
Because he has first line skill, what he needs is experience playing against a tougher crowd, and there isn't much tougher competition than a 3rd-4th line of an NHL team.
Send Him Down To The AHL
Have we not learned from the Gillies and Sheppard experiments? If they aren't ready, they aren't ready. Top line prospects should not be rotting playing less than 10 minutes a night.
Yes, the AHL is a tier-lower than the NHL, but the leagues still have similarities in playing style. There is also alot of NHL talented players in the AHL.
And as much as we want him to be in the NHL, wouldn't it be good for his development to play as the Aero's powerplay quaterback as well as the team's top center, playing 20+ minutes a night against the toughest defense the AHL has to offer?
If we are assuming the newfound energy that the Wild's second line had something to do with Jason Zucker's speed and tenacity, it would be safe to assume that it will take a poor game or two by this line for Granlund to be able to get back into the Wild's top six.
However, if that doesn't happen, the AHL will give him all the training he needs to get accustomed to the smaller rink.
I honestly don't think it will hurt with either decision, that is how much confidence I have in Granlund.
I trust that he will continue working hard and to fix his weaknesses whether he is playing 15 minutes a night, or is benched eating popcorn.
As long as he continues to progress, that is the most important thing.
There is no right or wrong answer. Developing a player is more art than science. Each player is a different case, so we just have to find the sweat spot. If the best place for him to develop is playing 4th line minutes with Rupp, learning to play against the rumble and tumble of the NHL, so be it. If it means being sent down to the AHL and leading the league, thats fine as well.
Because not only do I have confidence in Granlund, I have confidence is Jason Zucker.
I felt that Zucker made that 2nd line an actually threat last game, and if continues to do so, the Wild will finally have more than one line that can score.
Meaning, not everything is being relied on Granlund. And that is the way it should be for most young, developing talented. Patience and time.
So ... what are your thoughts?
Canadian Junior Leagues