Coach, GM stay patient as Wild's Granlund adjusts

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 31, 2013 - 12:09 AM
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Minnesota Wild center Mikael Granlund (64) passes the puck around Dallas Stars center Cody Eakin (20) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Associated Press

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Notwithstanding the fact that Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Johan Larsson are performing at a high level in the minor leagues, the Wild will continue to be patient with Mikael Granlund as the rookie tries to adjust to the NHL.

Prior to Matt Cullen scoring 90 seconds into Wednesday's game against Chicago, the Wild's second line hadn't produced a point since Granlund scored in his NHL debut opening night. In the past four games, Granlund has had a propensity for turnovers.

"He has got to get back to playing at a little higher pace and moving his feet and playing the system a little better in certain zones in particular, and then in the offensive zone, he can let his creativity take over," Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday morning. "This is part of the process. A couple off-nights for a 20-year-old is nothing to get overly alarmed about.

"It happens all the time. We'll see how he reacts, but right now we feel he's better than any of the other alternatives [in Houston]."

In Tuesday's 3-2 victory over Columbus, Granlund's neutral-zone turnover led to a prolonged shift in Minnesota's end and ultimately a goal. He then took a third-period penalty that led to the Blue Jackets tying the score. Wednesday, Granlund's turnover led to Chicago's first goal, but offensively, he was a threat.

"I think this is a positive step," coach Mike Yeo said. "I wasn't worried when he was on the ice tonight."

Points are precious in this truncated season, so the Wild needs an effective second line. But Yeo, who has resisted moving Granlund to wing and Cullen to his natural center position, echoed his GM after Tuesday's game, saying: "First off, [Granlund's] potential is extremely high and our potential as a team is higher with him. So we have to obviously focus on the team and make sure we're getting points, but we have to do what we can as coaches especially to help this kid get better.

"We're seeing glimpses every day of what he can do. We know that he's not perfect yet, but it's unfair to expect him to be."

Granlund is listed at 5-10 and 180 pounds and has had difficulty battling defensemen in the offensive zone. But Fletcher believes Granlund, who has thrived at every level of hockey, will adjust.

"His size is his size. He's always been that way," Fletcher said. "He can play at this level, but he's got to get better and he's admitted it. He's just got to keep learning."

Fighting with friends

Zenon Konopka nearly fought Columbus' Derek Dorsett on Tuesday, one shift after the Blue Jackets agitator slashed Ryan Suter across the arm. Konopka and Dorsett are former teammates from AHL Syracuse and Konopka called Dorsett "my little brother."

"I wasn't joking when I said there's no friends on the ice," Konopka said. "We were ready to go and then his coach started yelling over not to go. We would have fought and then we probably would have still talked after the game.

"He knows and I know it, but he was running around."

Mitchell stays ready for more

Despite signing a three-year, $5.7 million contract with the Wild last summer, Torrey Mitchell is averaging less than eight minutes per game on the fourth line -- 4 1/2 minutes less than he did in San Jose last season.

Mitchell's anticipated role changed because: 1) the team is healthy thus far; 2) Pierre-Marc Bouchard recovered from post-concussion syndrome, and 3) the Wild signed Zach Parise after signing Mitchell.

"Part of me signing here was to add depth to the lineup," Mitchell said. "I'll just stay patient and positive and try to contribute. ... Not to say you want anyone to get injured, but hopefully Mike understands I'm one of those guys that can jump up if it happens."

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