Michael Keränen was an overage free agent signing in June by the Minnesota Wild. He came to the Wild via the Finnish SM Liiga, with an assist by Niklas Backstrom. Keränen (which translates to "Sprout" in google translate) is listed as 6-1 and 176 pounds; he's not big.
After being undrafted, Keränen signed with Ilves. In his fifth season with the club, Keränen was the second-leading in the league, scoring 17 goals and 35 assists in 52 games. After the most recent season, Keranen signed with HIFK before signing an NHL out-clause to come to the Minnesota Wild. For his stellar performance in his latest season, Keränen was awarded the Guldhjälmen; the most-valuable-player award (decided by a player vote). He was also awarded the Lasse Oksanen award for being the best player in the regular season.
What is even more exciting than his most recent year is that he has shown drastic improvement from season to season, nearly doubling his output each year.
What's His Role?
Keränen has a lot of upside and potential. He is described on Elite Prospects as a "Fast and Flashy Dangler," with the clarification that he is a proficient defensive player. They also add that he would be wasted in a bottom-6 role. The left-shot forward certainly displays the abilities needed to compete for such a role, but does he fit in with the Wild's plans?
The Left Winger finds himself stuck behind such talent as
Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, and Thomas Vanek. This would relegate Sprout to the 3rd line at best (where many predictions place Matt Cooke). Initially, reports were that if Sprout wasn't going to start in Minnesota, he would be sent back to Finland to play for HIFK. Later, Russo reported that the Wild had refuted such claims.
Likely, we will not see Keränen in Minnesota this year; he will likely be in Iowa for the entirety of the season. There are two main reasons for this: Firstly, he will need to bulk up a bit. He doesn't have to be huge, but at only 176 pounds he is simply to small to be very effective in the NHL. Secondly, Sprout will need time to adjust to the speed and reduced sizeof NHL ice, rather than the European sheets. This adjustment will hopefully be made smoother with help from Finnesotans Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund, and Mikko Koivu, but it will likely take time and practice.
Keraänen is a very exciting prospect, but at this time a prospect is all he is. He has been at the Wild's training camp, and will be with the team for the foreseeable future (he will be a restricted free agent when his 1-year contract expires). He appears to have an extremely accurate shot, and wonderful instincts with (and without) the puck; all the makings of a star. However, he will need time to develop. Here are two highlight reels that showcase his talents.