Despite medaling at the most recent Olympics, and winning the World Championship in 2011, Finland was not expected to be a strong contender in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Canada, Russia, Sweden, and the United States were the teams most people expected to be making the noise. And then Mikko Koivu announced he would be sitting out of the Olympics, and the Finns lost their captain and number one center. And they were largely forgotten about.
Finland surprised everyone. They had as strong of a preliminary round as anyone, crushing Norway and Austria, and playing Canada to overtime. And they went onward, getting a bye to the quarterfinals. They defeated the home team Russia 3-1, and after losing to Sweden in the semifinals, crushed Team USA for the Bronze.
And at the forefront? All eyes went to Teemu Selanne, and there was a good reason. This season is the Selanne Farewell Tour, and the 21-year veteran had an impressive showing. The merits of his play, combined with the narrative of the greatest Finnish hockey player making his last Olympic appearance, and the underdog quality of Finland catapulted him to the Olympic MVP. But you're doing a great injustice if you don't give a lot of credit for Finland's run to Mikael Granlund.
Make no mistake, Granlund is getting credit. He made the Olympic All-Star Team himself. But what he did in the Olympics was very impressive. Granlund is known as a player with great vision, and a good set-up man, and he certainly was that. All but one of Selanne's four goals were assisted by Mikael Granlund. But what may surprise Wild fans is that he scored 3 goals in the 6 Olympic games he was in, only 2 fewer than the amount of goals he's scored in the 46 NHL games he's played in this season. Very encouraging. Overall, he finished 3rd in the Olympics in scoring, with 7 points (3 G, 4 A).
Even more encouraging for Wild fans were the amount of shots that he took in the tournament. You may have trouble believing that he took more shots than tournament MVP Teemu Selanne, who had 15 shots. I know that surprised me. And if you were raising your eyebrows over that, you'll be stunned to learn he was tied for 5th in the tournament in shots, with 20. Only Jeff Carter, Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Steen, and Phil Kessel took more shots.
To put that number in context with what he's done thus far, Granlund has only attempted 74 shots through the 46 NHL games he has played this season. If he shot at the pace that he did at the Olympics, he would have almost double that amount with 153 shots, which would be third on the Wild behind Zach Parise and Jason Pominville. Granlund also had more than 4 shots in 4 of his 6 games. He has had only 6 NHL games this season where he matched or exceeded 4 shots.
Given Granlund's traditionally strong play in international competition, one may think that his success has a lot to do with the international ice sheet, which is 15 feet wider than NHL rinks. While that may have helped, it seemed that Granlund learned something that can be very hard for a young NHLer to learn, especially one who is as gifted of a playmaker as Granlund: Sometimes you have to defer, yes, but sometimes, you have to not defer.
If Granlund could manage to lead his team in shooting, despite having a sniper like Selanne to whom he could have deferred to, why can't Granlund trust himself to not only set up plays, but to try and finish more? We may be seeing that already, as in the last 5 games he's played for the Wild, Granlund has amassed 20 shots. In his last 7 NHL games, he's scored 8 points (2-6-8), and has been part of a revitalized scoring line for the Wild.
And if Granlund can keep that big game going, even on the smaller ice, he could be a big factor in a playoff run for the Wild.