While center Mikael Granlund has struggled, defenseman Jonas Brodin has shown maturity beyond his 19 years.
Wild owner Craig Leipold reached deep to sign free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on July 4. The celebration erupted with Minnesota’s hockey fans, and so did theories as to how much the Parise-Suter pairing would mean for what had become a dreary on-ice product.
One of these was that, with the attention Parise and Suter would receive, the 20-year-old rookie forward from Finland, Mikael Granlund, could break into the lineup with less scrutiny and pressure.
So much for theories.
Granlund, now 21, was sent back to play with the Wild’s minor leaguers in Houston on Tuesday, after an ineffective 19-game start to his NHL career.
Fortunately, there’s another young man from the Nordic world — Sweden’s Jonas Brodin — who has done so much more than was anticipated on the Wild’s back line that Granlund’s rookie failings have been overshadowed.
Granlund was the ninth overall selection in the 2010 draft for the Wild. There was the same anticipation for his arrival among the W’s legion of loyalists as there had been for Ricky Rubio with the Timberwolves’ cubicle of survivors.
The Granlund hype here could be traced to the lacrosse-style goal that he scored in the semifinals of the 2011 World Championships. In Finland, a stamp was issued and a song recorded in honor of the goal.
In Minnesota, we watched the video and said, “What are you waiting for? Get him over here.’’
Granlund finally arrived. And he’ll be back. But for now, he’s an Aero, while the 19-year-old Brodin has become Suter’s steady left-hand man.
Suter was unfamiliar with Brodin until late August. That’s when Suter showed up for a couple of days of Octagon Hockey’s pro camp in St. Louis Park.
“There were some 5-on-5 drills and I noticed the way he was under control, how he kept all the simple plays simple,’’ Suter said. “I asked Darryl Sydor, ‘Who’s this guy?’ ’’
Sydor is the Wild’s assistant in charge of defensemen. His answer to Suter was also simple: “That’s Brodin, the kid from Sweden. He’s pretty good.’’
The owners imposed a lockout a couple of weeks later. For the veterans, it lingered for four months and reduced an 82-game schedule to 48. For prospects such as Granlund and Brodin, it meant playing in the AHL for the Houston Aeros.
Both were hurt in a game on Nov. 2. For Granlund, it was minor — a strained leg muscle. For Brodin, it was a broken collarbone that knocked him out of the Aeros lineup for 2 ½ months.
At that moment, anyone suggesting that in mid-March Granlund would be headed back to Houston and Brodin would be playing heavy minutes in his 22nd consecutive game on the Wild’s back line … that person would’ve been considered a bit woozy in the cranium.
Brodin returned from his injury for one game in Houston, and was promptly was called to the NHL for the Jan. 25 game in Detroit. He will play this entire season at age 19 — won’t turn 20 until July 12.
His playing time has ranged from 17:53 vs. Detroit on Feb. 17 to 24:51 on two occasions. For most of those NHL minutes, he has been paired with Suter.
“He was a little shy at first, I thought,’’ Suter said. “Now, he gets it.’’
Brodin’s fifth game was a 3-2 loss in Anaheim on Feb. 1. He was off-kilter that night, trying to force plays, holding the puck longer than is advisable in the world’s best hockey league.
Suter came to Brodin with this message that night: “If you’re in trouble, fire it over to my side. If I’m in trouble, I’ll know you’re there.’’
On Tuesday night, a half-hour after the Wild took a how-did-that-happen 2-1 loss to Anaheim in St. Paul, Suter added this:
“I told him, ‘If one of us makes a play that the other didn’t want to be made, we’re going to say something. That means you telling me … not just me saying something.’
“Jonas has done that. We’ve had great communication.’’
Suter was asked if he recalled thinking “wow’’ after a particular Brodin play.
He thought for a moment and said: “It’s his steadiness. The ‘wow’ is that a 19-year-old can keep the game simple in the NHL.’’
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org
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