Mikael Granlund, Wild prospect
For the first time since Marian Gaborik in 2000 and Mikko Koivu in 2001, the Wild may have finally drafted a blue-chip forward — one on the cusp of NHL stardom.
Presuming there’s no hang-up in signing Mikael Granlund before June 1, the Finnish superstar is a lock to make 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.
As a 19-year-old, he’s currently second in the league in scoring.
To put that production in perspective, Koivu combined for eight points in the same league as a 17- and 18-year-old.
Granlund’s a Finnish rock star.
He appears on murals all over Helsinki and became the toast of Finland last spring 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.
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.MICHAEL RUSSO
Having endured a hugely forgettable sports year — the Lynx and NSC Minnesota Stars soccer team notwithstanding — Minnesota fans begin the New Year with a sense of hope. Ricky Rubio looks as good as the hype that preceded his arrival, the Wild look like a playoff team and things have to improve for the Gophers, who didn’t get a revenue program — football plus men’s basketball and hockey — into a postseason in 2011.
The Vikings might soon get the go-ahead for a new stadium, and the Twins have the annual optimism of spring training going for them.
Almost forgot: The Lynx figure to be even better.
The Star Tribune has highlighted a dozen (OK, we’re counting the Twins’ M&M boys as a single entry) people who will have to make a positive impact over the next 12 months for the present day hope to evolve into success. Click through the photo gallery below to read about them and what they could bring to Minnesota sports fans.