After breaking his wrist on December 27th vs. Winnipeg, Mikael Granlund now finds himself close to being 100% after successful surgery. He won't be playing tonight, but is a possibility to return tomorrow night vs. Detroit.
With Marco Scandella's return from a concussion, and Ryan Suter's return from suspension, this means that Granlund's return may be the first time in months since we started hearing the word "mumps" that the Wild's core players have all been able to take the ice. The Wild getting healthy, and appearing to benefit from their goaltender. Those two factors are the two biggest reason for hope for a playoff run for the Wild, who are currently in 12th place, sitting 6 points out of a playoff position.
Injury isn't the only thing that Granlund needs to overcome to provide a significant boost to the Wild's playoff chances. After breaking out last season, particularly in the second half, we've seen a Granlund that's regressed. No doubt the Wild need Granlund on their team in order to be successful, but the Granlund they need is the one in top-form.
Granlund has a meager 15 points in 32 games, but that doesn't even tell quite the full story as to why Granlund's been so disappointing. Granlund has put up these underwhelming stats while spending most of his season centering one or both of Zach Parise and Jason Pominville. When you look at points he's accumulated per-minute at 5v5, Erik Haula is the only forward that gets points less frequently than Granlund. As an offensive player seemingly on the verge of a breakout, not being able to put up points beside the team's two most offensive wingers is unacceptable.
And it's not like we haven't seen Granlund producing before. Since returning from a concussion on December 22nd, 2013, Granlund was third on the team in points (behind Pominville and Parise) from that point to the end of the Wild's playoff run, scoring 36 points in 52 games. This wasn't even due to a great Power Play, as Granlund produced well at Even-Strength (2.1 Points/60).
Even more encouraging was that Granlund appeared to be actively working on becoming more a more aggressive shooter than he had in the past. His calling card has always been that of a play-maker, but the 6.63 Shots/60 that he put up at 5v5 was respectable enough to keep opponents honest, and would have been around middle-of-the-pack for the Wild that year, had he kept up his pace.
Granlund's shooting, more than any other aspect of his game, has taken a complete nose-dive this season. Among Wild forwards with 50 or more 5v5 minutes this season, Granlund is last on the team with 4.61 S/60. When you bump the minutes threshold to 400, but expand the player pool to all NHL forwards. Granlund's shooting frequency is 251st among 274 forwards. And the Wild were a team that was still among the best in the league at generating shots when Granlund was injured.
And this solidly corroborates what we've seen with our eyes. Not only has it No one could watch Granlund playing and agree that he's been the same player we saw down the stretch last season. This isn't acceptable to anyone involved. It's not acceptable to the GM and Front Office who drafted him 9th overall in 2010, anointing him The Future of Wild Hockey. It's not acceptable to the coach and team that has been struggling for a playoff spot, and needs that production to keep their hopes alive. And lastly, it's not acceptable to Granlund, who is in a contract year and needs a big season to cash in on the kind of deal he wants.
Whether Granlund returns tomorrow night against Detroit, or some time after the All-Star Break, he needs to be the player we saw from him last season. So many people depend on it.