Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Granlund contract details; Is Coyle or Granlund Wild's top prospect?

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild news, Wild off-season news Updated: May 25, 2012 - 7:32 AM

I'll be filling in on KFAN today (Friday) from noon-3. Great guests lined up, including Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin (12:15), Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr (12:30), Hall of Fame hockey writer Jim Matheson (1 p.m.), Rangers play-by-play man Kenny Albert (1:30), Wild defenseman and former Devil Kurtis Foster (2 p.m.) and Fox Sports North's Kevin Gorg (2:30).

Have a question? Tweet me at russostrib, call in or email me at mrusso@startribune.com.

The Mikael Granlund watch that never really was a watch has ended and the Johan Gustafsson watch has started (Wild’s not expecting any issues signing the 2010 sixth-rounder who backstopped Sweden to gold at the world juniors).

Obviously, please read the Mikael Granlund article in Thursday's paper, but here's a massive blog to fill your stomach tonight.

Just to show you how there was never, ever really a concern internally that the Wild was going to be able to sign Granlund, its 2010 first-round pick, by the June 1 deadline, agent Todd Diamond was on today’s conference call with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and Granlund.

I’m fairly certain that in the 6,382 conference calls I’ve been on in my career (I keep track), this was the first where the agent was invited on by the team. Usually, agents are thought of by teams the way Shane Doan thinks of Dustin Brown.

But that’s how good the relationship between these two sides has been. And, in fact, the purpose of having Diamond on the call was to confirm for all to see (hear) that the delay in Granlund signing a year had nothing to do with any type of contract dispute and was solely for the reason Granlund’s stated all along. He wanted to complete his military requirements, finish school and gain another year of experience so he’s a more complete player when he comes to the NHL.

On entry-level deals for this type of player, there’s no real hardball. The Wild essentially gave Granlund the works, or at least what is permitted under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement for a top 2010 draft pick.

Granlund will earn annual $900,000 salaries in the NHL, including three $90,000 signing bonuses – the entry-level max for a 2010 draft pick. With potential performance bonuses, his annual salary-cap hit is $2.1 million.

According to sources, he can receive up to $850,000 in potential “A” bonuses, which include 20 goals, 35 assists, 60 points, .73 points per game, top-6 forwards in ice time, top-3 forwards in plus-minus and other big awards, like all-rookie team.

He can also receive up to $350,000 in potential “B” bonuses, which include being a finalist for league awards or finishing in the top-10 in significant league statistical categories.

If Granlund plays in the minors, he’d earn $67,500.

For the Wild’s sake, it hopes Granlund plays in the NHL all three years and achieves the bonuses.

It’s amazing, but the Wild has signed every 2010 and 2011 first- or second-round pick (2010: Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker; 2011: Jonas Brodin, Zack Phillips) other than Mario Lucia, who is not allowed to sign if he wants to continue to be allowed on the Notre Dame campus.
Why is that huge?

Excerpt from one of my 2011-12 season postmortems:

It’s simple to see why the Wild has fallen behind most the rest of the league the past three years.

From 2004-08, the previous regime swung and missed on five consecutive first-round picks (A.J. Thelen, Benoit Pouliot, James Sheppard, Colton Gillies, and although it may be too early to declare, Tyler Cuma). Then Fletcher compounded matters by trading Nick Leddy.

Look at the Wild’s opponent on most nights and count how many of their own first-round picks are in the lineup. The Wild’s had one – Mikko Koivu (2001). It hasn’t developed a top-6 forward since Pierre-Marc Bouchard in 2002, an elite defenseman since Burns in 2003.

What’s more, go through the 29 other teams and look at their top players. Most team’s top scorers are their own draft picks and many from the 2004-08 drafts. This season, in the Wild’s regular lineup from the 2004-08 drafts were five players total – Marco Scandella, Cal Clutterbuck, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Matt Kassian.

The best teams in the league build through the draft. The Wild? It has not.

That will change as the team starts to infuse young talent this coming year and six, maybe seven players turn pro (Brodin is the lone question mark because if he doesn’t make the Wild, the team will decide to return him to Sweden or send him to Houston).

Fletcher said the Wild’s not counting on all these kids to make the team or be ready right away. But at the very least, the Wild should have more depth to deal with injuries, something that killed the Wild this past season.

Fletcher also again made clear the Wild’s plan this offseason is to be aggressive and try to add “some NHL talent.”

Obviously, Fletcher can’t name names, but it’s been reported ad nauseam, there is zero doubt the Wild, like so many others, plan to pursue Zach Parise and Ryan Suter IF they get to free agency July 1.

Fans are obviously excited by the Wild finally locking up Granlund. The Wild is already trying to capitalize on the hype. No. 64 Granlund jerseys are on the shelves of the three Hockey Lodge locations and the first 64 fans to buy season tickets get an autographed Granlund jersey.

The July 8-15 development camp should be a fun one, as should training camp IF it starts on time barring a new labor agreement.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about Granlund, and often in these situations, I like to get outside opinions because there’s no bias. Obviously, the Wild’s going to glow about the kid.

Today, I talked to two folks, one who’s a big Granlund fan and compared Coyle and Granlund for me (longtime NHL scout Grant Sonier, who has worked for Tampa, Florida, L.A., Columbus, Boston and Atlanta and is a special contributor for ESPN.com), the other who is skeptical as to how good of an NHLer he’ll be.

The latter is Mike Johnson, the former NHL forward who covered the world championships for TSN. He’s also an analyst on NHL Network. He tweeted this week that he wasn’t convinced how good Granlund would be, so I gave him a ring.

Snippets from both these interviews:

1. Mike Johnson

Do you question his size or his foot speed? “The size, not so much, there’s lots of small guys. And there’s lots of rooms for small guys to be excellent players. He’s never going to grow, so that’s not going to change. He looks like he’s got a pretty stocky body. He’s kind of bottom heavy and should be able to manage himself around the boards. To me the greater concern would be the foot speed. You look at his track record and what he did as a 17-year-old, that Finnish league is good. It’s not easy to produce points, and to do it at 17 and again at 18, there’s no denying his skills – tremendous passer, great hands, great vision. But when you watch him, at least from what I saw at this past world championship, he looked a step slow. And it’s going to be hard for him to get the separation he needs to make plays. Now whether he was run down or tired, as I’m sure he probably was – I know he had an illness for a few weeks – all things combined, maybe he wasn’t quite 100 percent. But from what I saw in the way he played in the world championships this year, he’s going to have to get a little faster if he’s going to want to be a dominant offensive player. He can play in the NHL right now I would think. But is he going to be an elite level offensive performer? Well, he’s got to get a little quicker.”

Can that be done? “No question. That comes with a lot of hard work. It’s not easy to do. Through the proper weight training and summer routines, you can add explosive movements and change your body composition so maybe you’re lighter and have less body fat and more muscle. That can help you. With his brain, he’ll be able to get by being not quite as fast. But he’s still got to get better at that, from what I saw.”

So you have doubts he’ll be a future elite first-liner? “Well, on the Wild, he’ll probably be a first-line winger. Depends what you consider elite. Will he be a point-a-game player? I don’t see it, because I don’t see him being able to skate that well. Can he play with Mikko and Dany Heatley and get 60 points? He probably can. Now if that’s considered elite, I don’t think it is, but that’s probably a first-line winger. He has skill that you can’t teach, and those are the players that harder to get. The thing that I saw that he needs to work on most is probably stuff that you can change, and that’s a little bit of fitness and a little bit of explosiveness in his skating.”

2. Grant Sonier

What do you think of Granlund as a player and how good can he be at the NHL? “The things that come to mind about Granlund is just how special his hockey sense is and how competitive he has been for an undersized, and when he was drafted, an undersized, weak kid. He’s always found a way to compete. When you got high-end compete and elite hockey sense, you’re going to find a way to play in the NHL. And this kid has both of that. Known as a playmaker and has been a playmaker more than a goal scorer, but I would venture to say this guy’s going to contribute by scoring some goals as well. But he’s got really, really good passing and vision skills. Someone that can one-time the puck will benefit from this kid being on his line, I can guarantee you that.”

What’s his upside because a lot of people lately have really dissected him to death. Can he be an elite, elite player? “Well, he’s definitely a top-6 forward. He’s got to be put in an opportunity to play with offensive players. Smart offensive players will benefit him. I’m not trying to do Minnesota’s job for them, but it’s going to be about confidence with this kid. He had a tough year. But all players have tough years. He’s a super, super smart kid. I’m not as concerned about his feet as other people have been. I’ve heard all those remarks. He doesn’t have blinding speed, but he has enough quickness and evasiveness, he’s going to be able to buy himself some time and space to make plays. He’s just a good player. Smart and competitive. The only real visible downside to him is that he’s not a big kid. But he can overcome that by building a really strong core and being smart about using his size against bigger players. There’s going to be an adjustment period because of the speed and size and strength of the NHL. But he’s smart enough to do that. I think it’s going to be really interesting to see what type of player he turns out to be. I would bet he’s going to be a real good player.”

Is he a center, or a winger because of his size? “I think he’s more of center because of visionary work, but that’s where he’s really going to have to learn because of his size. His down low coverage, but there’s ways around that. Because he’s competitive, he finds a way to be smart enough to defend down low. That’s what we always worry about in hockey with the centericeman. But he doesn’t have to defend when he has the puck on his stick or he’s giving the puck to someone on his team when open. You don’t have to play defense when you’re doing that all the time.”

Seems like Coyle’s stock has skyrocketed with his incredible success in Saint John and Granlund’s has fallen a bit just because of his tough postseason. Is Coyle the top prospect on the Wild right now? “Charlie Coyle’s a helluva prospect. They’re different players. Charlie Coyle, in my mind, has gone to no better organization (Saint John). Playing college hockey (Boston University) was good for Charlie Coyle, but what he’s learned by going to Saint John and playing for Gerard Gallant is he’s learned to play harder. Like he’s really punishing people now, which must have Minnesota excited. Like, he’s almost too big and too strong for the junior league. Everything about him when you watch him play junior hockey, he looks like a future elite NHL power forward. So is he better than Granlund? They’re different types of player and if you put Mikael Granlund on the Saint John Sea Dogs, he would absolutely dominate. Like, it wouldn’t even be funny. Like [Florida prospect, Saint John star] Jonathan Huberdeau, put those two together, and Huberdeau might have scored 100 goals. You can’t elevate one guy based on his performance in junior and downgrade the other kid who’s playing in the SM Elite League.”

Couple excerpts from conference call today:

Granlund: I’ve talked to Mikko and he's said many good things about Minnesota. The organization has been great. I’m just looking forward to playing there. I think it’s a big help for me that Mikko is there and other Finnish players, too. Hopefully everything goes well.”

Fletcher: “Mikael is a world-class player. He’s shown that in the various international competitions he’s played in, whether it’s been in the under-18s or the under-20s to the men’s world championships. He’s performed very well within his age group and also playing against men. Don’t forget he’s played three seasons in the SM-Liiga in Finland and arguably has been the top player in the league over those three seasons. So he has a lot of high-level experience and certainly we feel he’s a top prospect. Having said all that, the NHL’s the best league in the world. There’s a lot of games, it’s a different style of play, it’s a different sized rink in some cases, although Mikael’s played very well at the world junior championships on the smaller ice surface. But there’s going to be adjustments for any 20-year-old player, for any first-tme player in the NHL regardless of your age. We’ll just let the process play out, but we expect him to be an NHL player for us and play well for us and time will tell how quickly the adjustment is. But we’re going to do what we can to make him comfortable and give him every chance to succeed.

Fletcher on whether Granlund should make next year’s team: “Yes. I feel he’s ready to play in the NHL and our expectation is he’ll play for our club next year and contribute. It’s very difficult to know at what level a 20-year-old will be able to step in in terms of numbers and exact role. That’ll be up to him and how he performs. And obviously he’ll have to come to camp and play hard and earn that spot, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t.”

Fletcher on whether he’ll play center or wing and could start with Mikko: “That’s going to be up to how Mikael plays in training camp and how the coaches see him fitting in. he’s played center, he’s played wing, he plays both well. Over his career, I’m sure he’ll play center, left wing, right wing, power play, penalty kill. As for where he starts, who knows? As we’ve seen over the last couple years, there’s a lot of change in our roster with injuries and performance. So he may have to play a little bit of everything very quickly. I’ll leave that up to the coaches and Mikael to work out.

Diamond on how under the microscope Granlund is in Finland and how coming to Minnesota might even offer a respite: “I think it will be to some extent a relief. I think in some ways and in some situations, he can be a little bit like Lennon and McCartney walking in the streets over there. If you look at Google statistics, he’s the most googled athlete in the country the past couple years. The one thing Mikael has always done really well is he’s played with older guys coming into professional environments. He blends in very easily with older players. They respect him because of his approach and because of his skill level. … With time, Mikael will come to the forefront.”

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