Finally, after more than a year of concern by many, Mikael Granlund, the No. 2-ranked prospect in February's Hockey News Future Watch, is officially locked up.
The talented playmaking forward signed a three-year, $2.7 million deal. That includes annual $90,000 signing bonuses. He also received a performance bonus structure that should significantly raise the salary-cap hit. Working on the details. but the deal's been done for awhile and essentially the transfer paperwork needed to be finalized, then registered with the NHL.
I'd certainly suspect that you can pencil the Finnish Elite League star onto next year’s Wild roster.
As a 17-year-old in a league made up of men, Granlund scored 40 points in 43 games for IFK-Helsinki and was named the Finnish Elite League’s Rookie of the Year. As an 18-year-old, Granlund led IFK to a championship by tying for the league’s scoring lead. To put Granlund’s production in perspective, Wild captain Mikko Koivu combined for eight points in the same league as a 17- and 18-year-old.
As a 19-year-old this past season, he led the HIFK in regular-season scoring.
Granlund’s a Finnish rock star.
He appears on murals all over Helsinki, he's followed by paparazzi and became the toast of Finland last May by helping the proud country to a world championship in part because of a highlight-reel, lacrosse goal in the semifinals that’s been captured on a postage stamp.
“My mom has a lot of them,” Granlund said, laughing, last June. “For me, it’s not so big deal. It was just one goal. And that’s it,” Granlund added. “I tell people, ‘Come on, we won a gold medal. That’s what’s important.”
The ninth overall pick in 2010, Granlund can fly up ice, handles the puck beautifully and almost nonchalantly creates offense. He’s as good a distributor and a shooter and could give the Wild a bona fide Rookie of the Year candidate next season along with maybe even Charlie Coyle and certainly the Rangers' Chris Kreider.
The naysayers say he's too small, his footwork needs to be better. "I'll never be the biggest, fastest player. I've got to be the smartest," Granlund said last year.
Granlund has grown close with Koivu during the last two world championships and a stint in the Finnish Army. That’s got to music to the ears of the Wild brass, which envisions Koivu and Granlund as cornerstone fixtures of the Wild’s foundation.
“He’s a great guy,” Granlund said of Koivu last summer. “I need to learn from him. He’s a great player and great leader, so there’s much to learn from him.”
Granlund delayed signing with the Wild because he wanted to fulfill his six-month military obligation, finish school and “practice hard so I will be more ready when I come here.”
But he always promised Wild fans, “I want to play in Minnesota. That’s for sure."
Granlund was second in scoring at the most recent world junior championships. But in the semifinals in a must-score situation to extend a shootout against rival and eventual gold medal-winning Sweden, the puck slid off Granlund's stick.
During the precise time of Granlund’s shootout snafu, the Wild touched down in Vancouver. Later that day, Koivu watched the highlights.
He saw Granlund’s dejected face. He saw Granlund’s tears as he stood with his head slumped over the bench. So Koivu called Granlund to lift his spirits.
“At the end, it’s one shootout attempt,” said Koivu. “It’s not going to make him any worse or any better as a player.
“Everybody who knows the game, everybody who looks at the game, they know what kind of player he is. One shot won’t ruin that. He’s got to know that. It was a tough spot to be in, and a big deal for him. But it won’t make him any worse. He’s going to do just fine when he gets to [Minnesota].”
If you know Koivu, he’s not exactly the touchy, feely type. So for Koivu to show this kind of compassion was big.
“He said, ‘It’s just hockey,’” Granlund said. “He tried to cheer me up. It means a lot that he called me. He’s a great player, and a good friend.”
In last year's world championships, besides "The Goal," his nine points in nine games were second on Finland. This year, he played on the second line, but the coaches used Koivu's line, an energy line and a checking line more. He was benched during long stretches and did seem to struggle at times. He also, after missing the end of the regular season with an illness, reportedly struggled during IFK's playoff-round loss to Jokerit.
Is this a cause for concern? I asked reporter Samuel Savolainen of the sports magazine, "Urheilulehti," and he said, "The thing that was talked about for instand in our magazine was that he was simply burned out. After his sensational performance in the World Championships last year, he had to endure media exposure like never seen before. He had to tour with the trophy around the country and did everything. Interviews, commercials, PR-events, you name it. You can also throw in his brief stint in the military.
"He became such an instant hero and celebrity that (I'm not kidding) there were news in the tabloids about him having pizza and him going out to have a beer. He is incredibly polite, so he had a tough time to say "no". And I think all that put together just took such a huge toll on him. And it showed in a transparent way in the playoffs in the Finnish league and the World Championships."
We'll see. Regardless, this should be a very exciting development camp (July 8-15) and training camp (if training camp starts on time due to the league and union needing to modify the collective bargaining agreement) to see Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer, Jason Zucker and Zack Phillips compete for roster spots.
I'll be updating this later. Content from this blog came from numerous articles I've written on Granlund.