The year: 2010. The event: The NHL Entry Draft. Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Ryan Johansen,and Nino Niederreiter have been drafted (with a few others). The Wild are up with pick 9; Vladimir Tarasenko and Nick Bjugstad are both on board, as is Jaden Schwartz and Mikael Granlund. The Wild select the Finn, leaving Schwartz and Tarasenko to St. Louis and Bjugstad to Florida several picks later. What do all of these players have in common? They are all regular NHL players now, and several are starting to show their real worth.
Tarasenko and Schwartz have been dangerous in St. Louis, while Bjugstad is leading the Panthers on a rejuvenating run (assisted by fountain-of-youth-finder Jaromir Jagr). Meanwhile, Mikael Granlund sits as the subject of scrutiny and criticism in the frozen tundra that is Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Hopes were high for the centerman who netted almost a point per game during his time in Helsinki. This was followed up by a strong showing in the WJC for Finland. After a middling first full season in the NHL, Granlund seemed to find his stride against the Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs, playing the hero multiple times both by scoring goals and blocking shots (without a stick).
Since then, Granlund's stock has done nothing but fall; last season was mediocre at best, and he's been anything but overwhelming so far. Granlund's 1.58 points-per-60 at 5v5 puts him at the 67th most productive center in the league.
In fairness to the Mikael, he again is showing signs of turning a corner; since December 1 he has 7 points in 17 games, has controlled 51.5% of the shot attempts while on the ice, and is a +3 in penalty differential. If this sustains, we have a very capable player on our hands.
But we've seen this before: Granlund is capable of amazing feats and good stretches, but they never last. Even with his subpar play, fitness issues, poor leadership and bad coaching, Ryan Johansen is producing faster than Granlund.
Heads up: we're entering the section that is fairly stats-heavy, but the stats are not too fancy. Like Tony, I'll summarize at the end of the section
Based on points/60, Granlund is hardly a 2nd-line center, particularly for the Wild. Mikko Koivu has by far been the most productive center, ranking 28th best in the league of all centers with more than 300 minutes on the ice. Charlie Coyle is barely below him, at 31st in the league, with both Koivu and Coyle producing more than 1.8 points per 60. What's more, they're doing this while starting in the defensive zone significantly more than Granlund- 6% more often in Koivu's case and 14% for Coyle.
It's not all bad news; while Granlund only controls 49.5% of the shot attempts while on the ice, he is still better than the Wild's average, if only by 1.5%. Still; having played almost 200 games in the NHL by now, we should be able to expect more of Mikael than slightly better than average for the team.
Granlund doesn't even have the excuse that a player like Coyle or Niederreiter might have; Granlund has been given every chance to succeed. He starts in the offensive zone more than almost anyone else on the team, and he plays with the Wild's two best veteran forwards more than any other linemates. Since 2012, Granlund has played 1707 minutes at 5v5 with Jason Pominville, and 1304 minutes at 5v5 with Zach Parise.
Granlund was supposed to be the 1C of the future, and has so far been barely a 2C having played with two of the most productive players on the team. He has not been awful, but he has not produced effectively.
Moving away from numbers, there are clearly issues with Granlund's game by the eye test. While he is fairly effective at moving with the puck (see last night's Pivotal Moment), his decision making is slow and questionable. He passes when he should shoot, shoots when he should move, and doesn't move when he's about to get slammed into the boards.
It's possible that Granny just hasn't been able to make the mental adjustment from the larger European ice where he seems to thrive; perhaps the speed of the NHL is simply too much for him to handle. He holds on to the puck too long trying to force the issue, rather than keeping the puck moving and maintaining possession.
To put it simply: he is decent at obtaining the puck, adequate at zone entries, but is bad at keeping possession. Adding to the list of problems, Granlund's shot is anything but dangerous. Supposedly he's worked on this, but it's possible we haven't noticed it simply because he isn't shooting when he should.
Clearly, with 20/20 hindsight, there were better options available for the Wild. But, time travel is not possible (yet), so the question then becomes: what should the Wild do? Unfortunately, Yeo's options are limited. The Wild are anything but deep at center, and that may have just been exacerbated by Koivu's injury. GM Chuck Fletcher grabbed Jarret Stoll off waivers, but Stoll has been underwhelming at best, a liability at worst. In the short term, Coyle is serviceable at center (he's at least been better than Granlund), and the Wild have Tyler Graovac able to be called up. Ryan Carter, while not lighting the world on fire, is a reliable centerman as well.
In the long term, Iowa newcomer Grayson Downing is looking like a hot prospect, but still needs time to develop. Joel Eriksson Ek could well be a solid centerman, as could Reid Duke, Chase Lang, or any number of other prospects. Unfortunately, these players are in the "years out" category, and the Wild may feel pressured to make a trade in the meantime.
Ultimately, Mikael Granlund is looking like a capable NHL player. He is not what we thought, however, and the Wild's search for the 1C of the future must continue.