It seems like only yesterday, or maybe 5 years ago, when we were all anxiously awaiting a blazing young Fin with hands of silk and a stick of gold to make his way to the NHL and take his rightful place along side the Captain and fellow countryman Mikko Koivu to help guide this team to the promised land. We watched highlight packages, we had fantasies of what was to come, we even gave the kid a flashy nickname in anticipation of his arrival in Minnesota. Oh Finnish Baby Jesus, we waited for you with the anticipation of a kid on Christmas eve. Then, he arrived, and there was much disappointment.
There was a smorgasbord of reasons for why Mikael Granlund struggled to become the answer in Minnesota early in his career, and even felt like more of a liability at times. His utilization under an old regime wasn’t fitting his style, the speed of the NHL game and the smaller ice surface from what he was used to in his native Finnish leagues, his smaller stature made him look like more a ragdoll on the ice rather than a creative offensive threat.
Turn the page
While we saw moments of brilliance and creative play from Granlund through his first 4 seasons with Minnesota, like a big OT game winner a few seasons back against the Avalanche in the playoffs, he was inconsistent to say the least. Granlund’s pass-first mentality had earned him a reputation around the league with defenders. On the rush, cheat towards the pass because Granlund just wasn’t prone to shooting the puck, ever. That has all changed this season, and even last season we saw improved shot totals.
Through 63 games this season Granlund has already eclipsed his career highs in points, assists, and goals. He’s shooting more in all situations, but is still distributing the puck just as well (if not better) than he ever has. He is on pace to post 180 shots on goal this season, 20 better than his previous best last season. It’s one thing to be shooting more often, but Granlund is combining that with and incredible shooting percentage as well. In his first 4 seasons, Granlund’s average S% was 7.375%, through 63 games this season, he’s firing 15.1% of his shots on goal between the wickets.
There is no doubt that shifting Granlund to the wing has pumped up his game. A guy of his size, playing on the wing seems a much more natural a fit as the league only appears to be getting bigger at the center position. We all see this clear as day now, but there is more to his success than just playing on the wing.
Nearly 60% of Granlund’s zone starts are on the defensive third of the ice. With Koivu centering his line, it’s not a surprise to see this. To counter that with the offensive production though shows you this line in not content with just establishing possession, pressing the puck up the ice and dumping it in to change out and allow another line to take over. With both Granlund and the speedy Jason Zucker blitzing down the wings, both players are enjoying monster break-out seasons.
One thing seemingly flying a little under the radar these days with Granlund has to be his play with the puck along the walls. In seasons past we’d see Granlund get knocked around and cough up the puck regularly. This season, the kid is playing stronger than ever along the walls, and his shifty feet and fancy stick-work are starting to slice through would be defenders on a moments notice. His ability to break free from along the boards, including behind the net, and dish the puck out to a teammate has helped the Wild keep applying the offensive pressure, and led to it’s share of great scoring chances.
Think for a moment, all the things you might have complained about with Granlund’s past performance. He was soft on the puck, he didn’t shoot enough, he was iffy in the dot, at times he felt more like a defensive liability, his play was very inconsistent. Do you have any of those complaints today?
It's very difficult to complain about success. This season Granlund has enjoyed a lot of it, including a 12-game point streak which helped catapult him from a guy many had given up on just a season ago, to a kid seemingly nobody wants to live without. A question still remains however that cannot be answered anytime soon. Is this new Granlund the real Granlund? Or is this a mirage? It is a contract year for FBJ. Something tells me though, call it a hunch, that this new Granlund is going to be sticking around for quite awhile.