Challenge awaits for Wild's top prospect Granlund

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 22, 2012 - 1:26 AM

With his work in Finland finished, Mikael Granlund is expected to soon sign with the team and begin his NHL career.

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Wild prospect Mikael Granlund (left)

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Other than signing on the dotted line, Mikael Granlund has no more obligations.

In Finland, Granlund has fulfilled his military requirements. He has graduated high school. He has completed his third season with his Finnish team, HIFK. And on Sunday, the world championships concluded, albeit disappointedly, as Finland failed to medal after winning gold a year ago.

The tournament's completion means there is nothing else standing in the way of one of the Wild's most prized prospects to once and for all pen his John Hancock on the bottom of a standard NHL players' contract.

The Wild must sign Granlund by June 1, or it loses his rights and the 20-year-old can re-enter the draft.

But the Wild and Granlund's agent say discussions have been positive and there's no reason to sound the alarm bells. Granlund has said over and over that he is ready for a new challenge and that his intent is to sign with the Wild.

So while it might take a few days to finalize paperwork, all indications are the Wild will very soon announce the signing of Granlund to a three-year, $2.7 million contract -- the maximum for a 2010 draft pick -- along with potentially lucrative performance bonuses.

Wild fans have waited for Granlund with bated breath ever since the team selected him ninth overall in the 2010 draft. Getting the deal done will lower the temperature of fretful fans -- well, at least for the time being. Instead of agonizing over, "When's Granlund going to sign?" fans can move along and solely worry about whether the Wild will land Zach Parise on July 1.

The Wild already has signed forward prospects Charlie Coyle, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker and Zack Phillips and blue-line prospect Jonas Brodin. So, other than next month's draft, signing Granlund is the final big item on General Manager Chuck Fletcher's to-do list heading into what should be an extremely exciting and competitive July 8-15 development camp. (The Wild also must sign goalie Johan Gustafsson by June 1, but the 2010 sixth-round pick is expected to play next season in Sweden.)

"We should have a lot of guys trying to knock down the door next season," said assistant GM Brent Flahr, who has run the Wild's draft table since 2010. "It should be an exciting development camp, and in training camp [in September], it'll be a really good problem to have that we haven't had since I've been here, for sure."

Fans have heard all about the prospects for a while. It's the hope these kids provide that has kept many frustrated fans from abandoning ship on a franchise that has missed the playoffs for four consecutive years.

Fans have gotten sneak peeks of Bulmer and Zucker, but starting next season, all seven prospects should officially turn pro, and a handful could very well land full-time spots in Minnesota.

Granlund is basically penciled into the roster. Larsson, who captained Sweden to gold at the most recent world junior championships, is considered a legitimate contender. The smooth-skating Brodin, who won't even turn 19 until July, was terrific in the world junior championships. Against NHL players in the world championships, Brodin was impressive, especially against eventual gold medal-winning Russia, when he matched up against such stars as Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk.

And Coyle, who along with Phillips helped lead Saint John to a Quebec League championship and is competing in the Memorial Cup for the honor of standing atop all Canadian Hockey League teams, plays the type of pro game and has the type of size that could enable him to make an immediate impact.

"He's a world-class player in his age group," Flahr said of Coyle, who left Boston University in January and tied for the scoring lead in the QMJHL playoffs. "Everything he could have hoped for has fallen into place."

Granlund, who like many of his HIFK teammates was sidelined by illness late in the season, is coming off a disappointing Finnish Elite League playoff and world championship. He has been under the microscope for years, and many in the Finnish media have surmised he is burnt out and that perhaps signing with Minnesota will ignite his game again.

As a 17-year-old in a league made up of men, Granlund scored 40 points in 43 games and was named the league's Rookie of the Year. At 18, Granlund led IFK to a championship by tying for the league's scoring lead. This past season, Granlund led IFK with 51 points in 45 games.

The Wild hopes Coyle, who came to Minnesota in last summer's Brent Burns trade with San Jose, and Granlund develop into blue-chippers.

"There's going to be some speed bumps for any young player. There's going to be an adjustment time. They're coming to the best league in the world," Flahr said. "But in their age group at the national level, these guys have always been top players. Both guys are very dedicated and focused on where they want to be and are physically ahead of a lot of other guys.

"At the same time, I'm not expecting either guy to come in and get 100 points. We've got to be a little realistic. But with all these kids, it's an exciting time and this should be an exciting summer and fall."

Michael Russo • mrusso@startribune.com

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