Wait for Finn phenom Granlund over, he's joining Wild

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2013 - 6:17 AM

Mikael Granlund, after success at every level, is expected to be the Wild's second-line center now.

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Sweden's Jakob Silfverberg, left, challenges for the puck with Finland's Mikael Granlund.

Photo: Ronald Zak, Associated Press

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Back in Helsinki, Finland, Niklas Backstrom has gotten the chance to skate and work out with Mikael Granlund. Every now and then, the Wild goalie would remind the former HIFK star just who was responsible for his paycheck.

Backstrom owns a piece of the Finnish Elite League team that Granlund helped lead to a championship two years ago.

"He was making good money -- too much money. I don't think he can complain," Backstrom said, laughing hard. "The last couple years, I reminded him I was his boss. Now that he's my teammate, I have to be nice with him."

Told what Backstrom said, Granlund deadpanned, "I don't think he's nice to me even now," before breaking into laughter.

It has been almost 31 months since the Wild drafted Granlund ninth overall in the 2010 draft. Finally, on Tuesday, the 20-year-old Finnish phenom showed up in the Wild dressing room as a real-life Wild player.

Granlund is expected to make his NHL debut when the Wild opens the season on Jan. 19, in a game expected to be played in Colorado, according to a league source.

"NHL has been my dream. Now it's become true," Granlund said. "Now I'm here. Let's just play."

The NHL is expected to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement Wednesday. The players should be done with their vote by Saturday.

After signing a three-year contract last June, Granlund was hoping to make his NHL debut in October. Instead, the lockout meant a stint in Houston, where he had 21 points in 21 games and was able to adjust to the North American game despite missing a month because of an ankle injury.

Training camp is expected to open Sunday. Granlund is penciled in initially as the No. 2 center between Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi.

The lines coach Mike Yeo jotted down last summer remain the lines now.

"We haven't played any bad games since I drew it up, so no changes," Yeo quipped.

One benefit Granlund has that other Wild players don't is that he is the only one that has played throughout the lockout. Mikko Koivu played a little in Finland, Clayton Stoner in Slovakia, Jared Spurgeon in Switzerland and Devin Setoguchi in Ontario, Calif.

"It's easier to play if you have a couple games," said Granlund, the 2010 SM-liiga Rookie of the Year who also helped Finland to a gold medal at the 2011 world championships. "Some guys haven't played at all."

It might take some time for the 5-10, 180-pound Granlund to get use to speed and size in the NHL, but he has thrived everywhere he has been.

"I played in the city he's from [Oulu] for four years," Backstrom said, "and while he's a lot younger and was playing junior, you hear stories about him forever. So far everywhere, from the Finnish Elite League to the national team to the AHL, he's been really good, so I don't see any reasons why he couldn't be immediately in the NHL.

"For sure it's different. It's faster, it's going to be 48 games, a quick pace here. But I don't see why he won't be the same player he has been in other leagues. For every player, young and old, you learn new stuff every year, so he'll learn a lot this year. But the skill he has, the vision, the hockey sense, he'll be fine."

Granlund is a rock star in Finland. He is followed by paparazzi and Backstrom says, "Following from a distance, I don't know how he did it. I don't think he could go anywhere without people following him or coming to talk to him when he goes out.

"He's a young boy. He should be able to do a lot of stuff, but he handled it very well. He's a great guy on the ice, a good player, but off the ice, he's even more mature than his age."

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