Bold Predictions are a tough art. Get too bold, and you're going to look ridiculous. "Jason Zucker will win the Art Ross Trophy." "Mikko Koivu: 35 goal-scorer?" If you're not bold enough, and you're just making a prediction. "Zach Parise will lead the Wild in Goals." "The Wild will finally have a good Power Play." You have to reach to the fringes of likelihood and strike that fine balance between preposterous and plausible.
Our staff at HW will be making bold predictions throughout this week, in that time we'll be trying to find that balance. We start with (what we hope is) a doozy: Mikael Granlund will score 25 goals and add 51 assists this season.
This would not only be a massive breakout for the Wild's young center, but one of the best seasons in Minnesota Wild history. A Wild player has only surpassed the 76-point mark twice: Marian Gaborik's 83-point 07-08 season, and Brian Rolston putting up 79 points in the year after the (really bad) lockout.
"But wait", you may think, "We all like Granlund, and know he's good, but you're saying he's going to improve on his best season by 35 points, and more than triple his season-best goal total. What evidence do you have to support that?"
It's a fair question, but stick with me, and we'll all come to realize that these numbers are indeed attainable for Granlund.
First of all, while Granlund had 41 points last season, he played only 63 games (including a 29-second game against Phoenix). If Granlund played 82 games at that scoring pace, we'd be talking about a 54-point season. So, projecting for a healthy Granlund season, we're talking a difference of 22 points, a much more manageable gap.
I arrived at 25 goals and 51 assists for a specific reason. Those are the stats that Claude Giroux put up in his breakout 2010-11 season, where he established himself as one of the best young forwards in hockey.
"How'd you figure to compare Granlund to Giroux?"
Granlund played his first full season last year at the age of 21. Giroux's first two seasons were at the ages of 21-22. Let's see how they stacked up in those seasons.
Granlund (Age 21): 63 Games Played, 8 Goals, 33 Assists (41 Points, .65 Points Per Game)
Giroux (Age 21-22): 124 Games Played, 25 Goals, 49 Assists (74 points, .60 PPG)
Granlund actually stacks up pretty nicely against Giroux at this stage of development. Digging deeper, we can find even more flattering comparisons.
Granlund 13-14 (5v5): 0.29 G/60; 1.51 A/60; 1.79 P/60; 5.45 Shots/60
Giroux 08-10 (5v5): 0.60 G/60; 1.12 A/60; 1.71 P/60; 6.18 Shots/60
Again, at similar stages of development (in which Granlund is slightly younger), Granlund and Giroux had similar offensive output at even strength, with Giroux being a bit better at shooting and scoring goals, and Granlund proving to be a bit better at playmaking.
"OK, that seems somewhat compelling, but still, Giroux is one of the best players in the league. How is Granlund going to get to that level?"
Granlund is going to need to shoot much more often to get 25 goals. At even-strength, Granlund shot less frequently than Matt Cooke, Stephane Veilleux, and Kyle Brodziak. Granlund simply will need to take matters into his own hands more frequently.
Fortunately, we've gotten signs of potential in this regard. Granlund's otherwise pedestrian numbers hide the fact that when he was paired with Zach Parise, he was a much more prolific shooter. At 5v5, Granlund shot the puck only 4.35 times per 60 minutes. In the 244 5v5 minutes he was on the ice with Parise, that rate jumped all the way to 7.85 Shots/60. To put that in perspective, Granlund skating with Parise shot the puck more frequently than any Wild player except for Zucker and Parise himself. In related news: Vanek's arrival could ensure that Granlund plays heavy minutes with Parise.
The playoffs also saw a more aggressive Granlund. In the regular season, he had an overall 5.71 S/60. In the playoffs, that spiked to 8.96 S/60, a rate only Parise and Erik Haula surpassed. Granlund wasn't only picking on the Avs, either, his S/60 against the Blackhawks was 10.29.
So, there's definite reason for optimism that Granlund will be able to shoot more frequently, which would no doubt help his goal totals significantly. The other area Granlund can make great strides in is on the power play. Part of this is just a matter of Granlund getting more PP time. Despite being 3rd on the Wild in 5v4 P/60, Granlund ranked 6th among Wild forwards in PP time, behind guys like Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle.
Now take him receiving more PP ice time, and consider his growing willingness to shoot, the emergence of Nino Niederreiter, and the addition of Vanek to the Wild's arsenal. It's very hard to imagine a scenario where Granlund's Power Play production doesn't rise.
Granlund looked completely over-matched in his first season in the NHL, but last year, he made significant improvements to raise his game. When you combine that fact with him having a nice doppelgänger in Giroux, and flashes of him raising his game when playing with and against top players, you have cause for real optimism. It may take luck, both in terms of him staying healthy and in his shooting percentage, but a 76-point breakout season for Granlund isn't as far-fetched as it may initially sound.