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Continued: Wild's emerging Granlund shows he's ready for his close-up

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 4, 2014 - 12:44 PM

After all, Wild fans waited three years for him. He was billed as a Calder Trophy contender because he dominated the Finnish Elite League as a teenager, winning Rookie of the Year in the SM-Liiga in 2010, leading HIFK to a championship in 2011, and helping lead Finland to gold at the 2011 world championships with a lacrosse-style goal in the semifinals that was captured on a postage stamp and catapulted Granlund into celebrity status.

“After that, he was so famous. He was that 19-year-old who scored that unbelievable goal,” said Kalle Kossila, a sophomore from Finland who is the second-leading scorer on St. Cloud State. “He can’t really go anywhere in Finland. Paparazzi follows him, everybody recognizes him and loves him, just like [Teemu] Selanne and Koivu.

“Selanne’s a legend, but if you ask any young child in Finland who’s their favorite player, most of them are going to say Granlund.”

Extra effort

When Granlund struggled in his first season with the Wild, he took it to heart.

“The one thing with Granny, he’s such a proud guy and he’s highly intelligent,” Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr said. “This was probably the first time ever he didn’t have immediate success at something.”

Selanne, the future Hall of Famer, watched Granlund spend hours daily on the ice and in the weight room as he was determined to prove to everybody he could function in the NHL.

Kossila also took part in some of those skates. He said that after every practice Granlund and his younger brother, Markus, a Calgary Flames prospect who leads AHL rookies in goals this season for Abbotsford, would spend extra time on the ice “working on battle drills, cross-checking each other, learning to protect the puck.”

“Watching him this year,” Kossila said, “I think it’s really helped him.”

Size disadvantage

Parise says this transition isn’t unusual.

“Just like every smaller player — I’ve been through it, we all go through it — he had to [make] an adjustment to the league, and learn what he can do with the puck, and what he can’t do and [learn] how quick you’ve got to get rid of it.”

On and off the ice, Granlund is getting more comfortable. He mostly hangs out with the Wild’s horde of similar-aged youngsters (most live in the same apartment complex) and gets in on the pregame soccer hackysack contests. In Calgary on Saturday, he was throwing himself into auxiliary seats to keep balls alive.

“He’s a pretty competitive kid,” Cooke said. “Sometimes he’s so gifted at slowing the game down and opening up ice, you almost underestimate his compete and his battle level and mistake it for not being determined.

“But you watch the way he’s playing in our own end this year, he’s knocking guys off pucks, he’s eliminating guys from plays.”

Formula for success

Parise says Pominville has constantly raved about how much he loves playing with Granlund.

“I didn’t really understand it until I finally played with him [recently],” Parise said. “He jumps into holes and plays with a lot of speed in the neutral zone, which is nice for a winger. When your centerman is driving with speed through the middle, it opens a lot of things up. He makes really good plays with the puck. He’s developing really well.”

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