Heading into tonight’s Minnesota Wild game, all the eyes in St. Paul were on Alex Tuch. The 2014 first-rounder made his NHL debut, starting his career on the Wild’s top line alongside decorated veterans Zach Parise and Eric Staal.
By the end of the night, the spotlight belonged to Mikael Granlund.
Granlund, another Wild first-rounder (from 2010), put an exclamation point on his arrival tonight, notching his first career hat trick and dominating the Vancouver Canucks to the tune of 4 points en route to a 6-3 Wild victory.
Minnesota started off the game strong, putting consistent pressure on Canucks goalie Ryan Miller in the first few minutes of the game. After that burst out of the gate, they had a lull that allowed the Canucks to get their bearings.
Despite this, the Wild struck first when Christian Folin got possession of the puck right off the face-off, and then, seeing he didn’t have a clear shot, dished it to Mike Reilly. Reilly then took a massive slap shot to beat Ryan Miller through a very tight space between Miller’s shoulder and the post.
Vancouver would strike back when Markus Granlund and Jannik Hansen created havoc for Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon. This screened Dubnyk so that he couldn’t get the cleanest read on a Brandon Sutter shot. Dubnyk was able to make contact with the puck, but it got through to tie the game up.
The Nino Niederreiter line got some good pressure in the last minute, and this carried over to a Wild line change, when Matt Dumba took the puck and pinched along the boards and behind the net. Dumba found Jason Zucker, who was camping out in front of the net, firing off a shot which bounced off Miller and found Granlund for an easy tap-in to make it 2-1 going into the second.
Miller stood tall on the Wild’s power play to open the second, turning away a few dangerous chances. Minnesota’s failure to score on the power play was in danger of coming to bite them when Tyler Graovac cross-checked a Canuck into his own net, knocking it off it’s moorings.
But Granlund was able to get a breakaway, and drew the defense to a pinching Marco Scandella. But while the Canucks thought pass, Granlund fired a laser past Miller for a short-handed goal.
Midway through the period, the Canucks would answer back when Bo Horvat scored off the rush to bring the Wild lead back to one. But a minute later, Zach Parise deflected a Jared Spurgeon shot to extend Minnesota’s lead back to two.
The two teams would trade blows again at the end of the period, when Granlund had the puck in the offensive zone and pulled back slightly to set up. Two Canucks laid their sticks down in an effort to block a pass to Mikko Koivu, who was standing beside the net. No matter, Granlund threaded the needle to give Koivu an easy tap-in to extend the lead to 3.
But Vancouver got a power play right away and made sure they were the team cashing in. Sutter scored his second of the night, again cashing in on some chaos, this time courtesy of a rebound.
Despite holding a two-goal lead to begin the third, Minnesota would not let their foot off the gas, continuing to dominate play against the Canucks. Their aggressiveness would pay off when Granlund put the game away by completing the hat trick mid-way through the third period. And they kept on pressing.
Charli Coyle: looked good early on fourth line, sprung Graovac for a breakaway early.
Tuch: Good early. Willing to crash the net, showed good ability to find the puck, hard to knock him off. Tuch showed great anticipation in intercepting passes near the blue lines.
- We need to talk about just how awesome Mikael Granlund’s done. He now has 15 goals (a career-high) and 48 points in 51 games played. His next-best season? 44 points last season, in a full 82 games. He’s on pace to eclipse his career-high point total by 33(!!!).
- That’s not all: If Granlund’s 77-point pace holds up, that’ll be good for the 3rd-most points in a single season in Wild history. Only 07-08 Gaborik (83 points) and 05-06 Rolston (79) will have more.
- And for good measure: Granlund is on pace to break Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s single-season assist record with 53 assists (PMB had 50 in 07-08).
- Markus Granlund was in the building to witness his brother’s first career hat trick. This probably would’ve been a more special moment for Markus, had he not been on the receiving end of his big brother’s 3 goals.
- OK, let’s move on from Granlund. Kinda. His line combined for 13 shots on the night. Granlund with 6, Zucker with 4, Koivu adding 3.
- Truly moving on from Granlund: Tuch had a great debut. He registered just 2 shots, but had 5 attempts on the night. He was difficult to knock off the puck, and on two occasions, his anticipation allowed him to snuff out two attempts by Vancouver to leave their zone. His skating and play away from the puck was the knock on him heading in, but he looked fast and smart enough to make a difference away from the puck, hard to stop once he had it, and willing to go to the net and even get physical. The Wild may have a true power forward on their hands.
- Tuch was also a possession monster, leading the Wild by recording an 80% Corsi (15 shot attempts for, 5 against) in his first NHL game. Not bad, kid. Not bad.
- This is a bit of a compliment sandwich: Zach Parise’s goal was his 10th of the season, which took him 42 games to reach. In the previous 4 seasons, it took him 21, 20, 20, and 24 games to reach double-digits. Not super-encouraging, and the Wild had better hope this is a fluke year, rather than age-related decline.
- Matt Dumba looked pretty good tonight. Two assists, made at least one heads-up play to snuff out a rush, and continued to cut down on his big mistakes. He’s on-pace for 39 points, which would make him just the fourth Wild defenseman to reach that mark (Suter, Brent Burns, and Marek Zidlicky).
- Don’t forget Jared Spurgeon, whose two assists now have him on pace for a 40-point season himself.
- Lastly, there’s been attention toward’s Charlie Coyle’s scoring slump, as his lack of goals and shots sent him to the fourth line once Tuch was called up. Coyle was solid, if unspectacular tonight. He registered 2 shots in 13:26, which is better than he’s done lately. He also made a nice stretch pass in the first to spring Graovac for a breakaway, and got to spend some time moving up in the lineup. Coyle ought to be fine.
Minnesota guaranteed they’ll finish their Western Canada road trip with at least a .500 record, and they’ll have a chance to go 3-1 playing against Patrik Laine and the lowly Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. Stay tuned to Hockey Wilderness for all the latest news and analysis!