Wild's emerging Granlund shows he's ready for his close-up

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 4, 2014 - 12:44 PM

A year after struggling as a rookie, the soft-spoken center has developed nicely for the Wild.

Mikael Granlund is so discreet you often don’t notice he’s there.

Usually one of the last players off the ice after practice, the Wild playmaker tiptoes into the locker room, sinks into his stall and shakes the sweat out of his blond flow.

“It’s his surfer look,” teammate and Finnish countryman Erik Haula jokes.

To Granlund’s right sits Zach Parise, usually with a half-dozen reporters orbiting him. To Granlund’s left sits Matt Cooke, also popular with the press because he’s a quote machine.

Granlund eyeballs everything, listens to every word, and never gripes that so many are hovering in his personal space.

“He’s learning and taking everything in,” said goalie Niklas Backstrom, who knows Granlund better than most. Backstrom is 14 years older than the soon-to-be-22-year-old, but he is part owner of the former Finnish Elite League team, HIFK, for which Granlund starred.

“He was overpaid then, too,” Backstrom cracks. “Honestly, like every player coming from a different country, everything is new for him. So on the ice, off the ice, he’s constantly learning.”

That’s been apparent by his play this season, especially the past month. Granlund has stepped up in place of injured captain Mikko Koivu and, centering a line with Parise and Jason Pominville, has taken his game to a different level. The Wild is 9-4-2 in the new year, and Granlund has 13 points in those 15 games.

The fifth-leading scorer on the Wild despite missing 13 games because of a concussion, Granlund is riding a five-game point streak heading into Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay.

And he is nine days from competing in his first Winter Olympics.

Making strides

Granlund wins important draws regularly, and is trusted by coach Mike Yeo in every situation. This maturation is quite the contrast to the raw rookie who had a tough integration to the NHL last season.

“It was all about my skating and my battle level,” said Granlund, listed at 5-10 and 186 pounds. “When I’m skating good, that helps my game a lot. But I learned last year what I needed to do to survive. I had a lot of work to do.”

“I’ve always been the smallest player on my teams, so it’s normal for me. I understand that I won’t ever be the most powerful guy, so I need to be smarter and do something else.”

Force-fed onto the team as the second-line center last season, Granlund looked overmatched as he tepidly navigated the tight spaces of an NHL-sized rink. He was outmuscled and had trouble staying on his feet.

“No disrespect to him, but we saw flashes of it last year, but other times you saw how tough a transition it was,” Parise said. “These are the best players in the world. It’s not easy.”

Great expectations

Because Granlund came to the Wild with such hype, many wrote him off as a “not big enough, not fast enough, not dynamic enough” bust after the Wild assigned him to the minors.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 1 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Arrieta 4
Houston - WP: T. Sipp 5 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Allen 1
San Francisco - WP: T. Hudson 10 FINAL
Washington - LP: D. Fister 3
St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 4 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: K. Kendrick 5
Chicago WSox - LP: D. Webb 3 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: D. Robertson 4
Tampa Bay - WP: D. Smyly 8 FINAL
Toronto - LP: M. Stroman 0
Atlanta 1 Top 11th Inning
Cincinnati 1
Seattle 5 Bottom 9th Inning
Boston 3
Kansas City 5 Bottom 8th Inning
Texas 3
Pittsburgh 8 Bottom 8th Inning
Milwaukee 2
Detroit 5 Bottom 6th Inning
Minnesota 6
Miami 6 Bottom 6th Inning
Colorado 4
San Diego 0 Top 5th Inning
Arizona 4
LA Angels 1 Top 3rd Inning
Oakland 1
NY Mets 1 Top 4th Inning
Los Angeles 1
Carolina 7 FINAL
New England 30
NY Giants 28 4th Qtr 3:05
NY Jets 24
Jacksonville 12 FINAL
Detroit 13
Oakland 7 4th Qtr 12:15
Green Bay 25
Chicago 0 2nd Qtr 15:00
Seattle 14
Tampa Bay 8/23/14 3:30 PM
Buffalo
Tennessee 8/23/14 6:00 PM
Atlanta
Dallas 8/23/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Washington 8/23/14 6:30 PM
Baltimore
New Orleans 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Indianapolis
Minnesota 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Kansas City
St. Louis 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Houston 8/23/14 8:00 PM
Denver
San Diego 8/24/14 3:00 PM
San Francisco
Cincinnati 8/24/14 7:00 PM
Arizona
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:00 PM
ULM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
UCF 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Penn State
Real Salt Lake 0 2nd Half 25:00
FC Dallas 1
Montreal 13
Winnipeg 8
Toronto 8/23/14 3:00 PM
Edmonton
Calgary 8/24/14 2:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 8/24/14 6:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 2:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Chicago 80 FINAL
Atlanta 77
Los Angeles 34 3rd Qtr
Phoenix 35

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How closely will you follow the Lynx in the WNBA playoffs?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close