Ups and downs of hockey aren't lost on Wild's top prospect

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 6, 2012 - 6:48 AM

Mikael Granlund was devastated after losing the puck on a decisive semifinal shootout, but the Finn's future remains bright.

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Mikael Granlund, right, took a faceoff against Canada’s Freddie Hamilton in the bronze medal game. Granlund, a Wild prospect, had two goals and nine assists in the tourney.

Photo: Jeff McIntosh, Canadian Press via Associated Press

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CALGARY, ALBERTA - Mikael Granlund has delivered on the big stage countless times, but the Wild's most prized prospect won't soon forget the puck sliding off his stick in a must-score shootout attempt in the semifinals of the World Junior Championships.

To add insult to injury, Granlund's miss catapulted the rival Swedes into Thursday night's gold medal game, where they beat Russia 1-0 in overtime. It also ultimately might have cost the Finns a medal because the Finns were trounced in the bronze medal game, 4-0 by Canada.

"Big disappointment," Granlund said afterward. "We were so close in the semifinal."

During the precise time of Granlund's shootout mishap Tuesday, the Wild touched down in Vancouver. Later that day, Wild captain Mikko 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 on Wednesday, Koivu called Granlund, 19, to lift his spirits.

"At the end, it's one shootout attempt," said Koivu, who won a world championship for Finland with Granlund last May. "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,'" said Granlund, selected ninth overall in 2010. "He tried to cheer me up. It means a lot that he called me. He's a great player, and a good friend."

The reality is Koivu is right. Granlund, usually money in the bank in those situations, was named to the all-tournament team, tied for second in scoring and could make an immediate impact once he gets to Minnesota.

Prospects stand out

In fact, if you watched the world juniors, you know the best days should be ahead for the Wild. Six of its prospects participated, including Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle for the quickly-fizzled United States, and Johan Larsson, Jonas Brodin and Johan Gustafsson, who won gold with Sweden.

The Wild has signed Larsson and Brodin, but Granlund opted to stay unsigned so he can fulfill his six-month military obligation, finish school and, he hopes, lead HIFK to another SM-Liiga title.

If the Wild doesn't sign Granlund by June 1, it loses his rights and he can re-enter the 2012 draft. The Wild can't sign him until after the world championships, so this could drag into May, which will only further add fuel to the fret of many Wild fans.

The Wild brass isn't worried though. Granlund said for the umpteenth time Thursday: "Of course, I want to play someday for the Wild."

All indications are he means it. He idolizes Koivu and built a friendship with him during the world championships and in the Finnish Army. He has a strong relationship with General Manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr. He appeared at the Wild's Fan Fest at the 2011 draft. He attended the Wild's development camp in July.

And in terms of opportunity, Granlund is a lock to make the Wild next season. If he re-enters the draft, he can't make any more money and he can't control where he ends up.

So would he really want to wind up in Columbus or Long Island over Minnesota?

Agent: Granlund headed here

If you take Granlund and his agent, Todd Diamond, at their word, it doesn't seem as if anybody should lay awake at night worrying about what's hiding in the grassy knoll.

"Our intention is to talk with the Wild when Mikael's season is over, although we may have some exploratory discussions beforehand," Diamond said. "We like the direction of management and the team and hope Mikael will be around to contribute."

Granlund will get the rookie maximum salary and signing bonus, meaning the only negotiation will be to iron out a bonus structure with which both sides are comfortable.

"There will be a few phone calls at some point between Chuck or I and his agent," Flahr said.

Granlund gets all the publicity, but Larsson, Sweden's captain, is also a stud. He will turn pro for the Wild next season, something Sweden GM Johan Garpenlov confirmed Thursday. If Larsson, the 56th pick in 2010, doesn't make the Wild, he'll play for Houston of the AHL.

"He's very competitive and physically strong and seems to thrive in big games," Flahr said. "He's put a stamp on what he is as a player in this tournament."

Brodin, a gifted-skating defenseman and taken 10th overall last June, also will be given a chance to make the Wild. If Brodin, 18, doesn't make the team, he'll likely return to Farjestad in Sweden, where he plays 25 minutes a night, for further development.

"We're not going to rush him," said Flahr, adding the same thing about Gustafsson, the goalie.

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