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The Rebirth of Mikael Granlund

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NHL: New York Islanders at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Years ago, the name Mikael Granlund was like magic. It was the promise of a brighter tomorrow. A young, 2-way center with scoring touch. Who doesn’t remember the famous “La Crosse” goal?

Alas, that Granlund never seemed to appear for the Wild. While Mikael certainly made some plays and seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough after the 2013 playoffs, that breakthrough never really came.

courtesy of www.stats.hockeyanalysis.com

This set of charts from Hockey Analysis demonstrates that the breakthrough never came. Granlund has had very similar numbers in every respect since he started playing, with the notable exception of GF%, which has jumped around. Since that’s reliant not only on Granlund, but the defense and goaltending as well, we can write much of that off to the team around Mikael.

(One disclaimer: the 12-13 season is one in which Granlund only played 300 minutes at 5v5, so those numbers should be taken with a generous helping of salt).

Even this season- which is going extremely well both for the Wild as a team and Granlund as a player- is similar in a lot of ways to previous seasons. Granlund is controlling roughly the same amount of play as he did in 13/14 in terms of shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, and shots on goal. Granlund’s GF% is way better, but at least part of that can be attributed to Dubnyk’s stellar play (the other part we’ll get to shortly).

Granlund is starting in the offensive zone less and the defensive zone more than he ever has previously; this is not a recipe for offensive success normally, so what’s going on? Even when you look at Granlund’s personal scoring, things aren’t THAT drastically different. Here are isolated numbers for Granny’s scoring pace over the past several season:

courtesy of www.stats.hockeyanalysis.com

Granlund is definitely putting up more goals than he has before and more assists. His significant improvement in assists/60 (to an impressive 1.59!) is explainable somewhat by the fact that with Granlund on the ice the Wild are shooting almost 12%, but even that doesn’t explain everything.

The answer lies further to the right along that table, where Granny’s shot rates lie.

Granlund is putting shots on net. Even when accounting for missed shots and unblocked shots, Mikael has learned over the past two seasons to pour the puck on net.

The increase in shot volume does several things. First, it has provided Granlund with more goals (shock!). Secondly, it has created more assists for the young Finn through rebounds, deflected shots, and accidental-passes-that-were-supposed-to-be-shots shots.

We cannot, of course, forget the influence of Bruce Boudreau in this equation. The new head coach has given his players free reign to create opportunities, and this is benefiting several players. We also should remember: Granlund is now on the wing, where he likely feels more free to take defensive risks than he did as a centerman.

None of the above is to say Granlund has been more defensively porous this season than he was in years past. While Granlund’s Goals-Against/60 is up this season from last, it is not higher than two or three seasons ago. Granlund’s offensive output has increased significantly without being more open at the back.

Either way, Granlund is having a career year in a contract year. He has already matched his career high points production. With half the season left, we have a lot to look forward to.

Assuming, that is, Granlund stays in Minnesota through the expansion draft and is re-signed by the cap-adjacent Wild.

** All stats and charts from www.stats.hockeyanalysis.com

This was written primarily before Saturday night’s win. Some of the numbers may have shifted slightly from the time of writing.