Wild's Granlund has memories of Sochi to savor with Selanne

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 1, 2014 - 11:45 PM
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Finland forward Teemu Selanne and Finland forward Mikael Grandlund celebrate a second period goal against Russia during a men's quarterfinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Photo: Mark Humphrey, Associated Press - Ap

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Mikael Granlund got two things from future first-ballot Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne at the Olympics — a personally autographed puck and memories to last a lifetime.

The Wild center was lucky enough to play on the legendary Finn’s line at the Olympics. Not only was Selanne named tournament MVP in his sixth and what he claims will be his last Olympics, but Granlund was also named to the all-tournament team after finishing third in Olympic scoring.

“It was a big deal,” a smiling Granlund said about playing alongside his biggest role model and one of his greatest supporters. “Teemu was the idol for me and for a lot of Finnish hockey players when I was growing up. So it was a dream come true to have a chance to play with him and to see how unbelievable good he can still play.

“He’s 43 years old, and he can still play at that level. It was an honor to play with him.”

Selanne, the Anaheim Ducks forward who has scored 682 NHL goals, says this will be his final NHL season. He scored two goals in Finland’s 5-0 bronze-medal victory over the United States. Granlund assisted on both.

“He’s Teemu,” Granlund said of the all-time leading scorer in Olympic men’s hockey history (43 points). “If that was his last game with a Finnish jersey, it was a great one.”

Granlund returns from the Olympics with soaring confidence. He has 18 points in 24 games since returning from a concussion Dec. 22 and had a goal and assist during the Wild’s two-game sweep at Edmonton and Vancouver on Thursday and Friday.

“I just need to keep going and try to get even better,” Granlund said.

The Wild beat the Canucks 2-1 on Justin Fontaine’s shootout goal in the seventh round. That put the Wild’s record at 13-4-2 since Jan. 2. Its win total is tied for second in the NHL over that span, its 28 points ranks second, its .737 points percentage ranks first and its 2.05 goals allowed per game ranks second.

Considering captain Mikko Koivu has been out since breaking his ankle Jan. 4, Granlund’s ability to assume Koivu’s first-line center role is a big reason for the Wild’s 2014 success.

“He has a chance to make this a really great season for himself,” coach Mike Yeo said.

Kuemper’s stats shine

Since becoming the Wild’s No. 1 goalie Jan. 7, Darcy Kuemper is 10-2-2 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. In that stretch, he is tied for first in victories, tied for fifth in GAA and tied for fourth in save percentage in the NHL.

He has made 14 consecutive starts, has won four in a row (four goals allowed) and is 11-for-11 against shooters in two victorious shootouts.

Center or wing for Coyle?

When Koivu returns, Charlie Coyle might return to right wing. But Yeo said he believes Coyle’s long-term future could be at center.

“He’s showing the ability of being a real strong, solid, physical centerman in this league,” Yeo said. “We have just a ton of confidence in that kid.”

Yeo compared Coyle’s development to that of St. Louis captain David Backes, who began his career at wing but has flourished in recent years at center.

“With a young player, you have to have a little bit of patience,” Yeo said. “But as far as I’m concerned, [Coyle’s] grown leaps and bounds at the center-ice position.”

Etc.

• The Wild is close to signing hard-nosed prospect Kurtis Gabriel, a 20-year-old 2013 third-round pick, to his three-year, entry-level contract. The 6-4, 218-pound forward is the fourth-leading scorer with 11 goals and 40 points in 52 games for Owen Sound in the Ontario Hockey League. He will officially turn pro in the fall.

• The Wild signed Western Hockey League free-agent center Brady Brassart to a three-year entry-level deal. Brassart, 20, has 33 goals and 75 points, a plus-17 rating and 90 penalty minutes in 62 games with the Calgary Hitmen this season. He will turn pro in 2014-15.

• The Wild reassigned goalie John Curry and defenseman Steve Kampfer to AHL Iowa.

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