The Wild is giving 25-year-old skilled winger Michael Keranen, one of the Finnish Elite League's top scorers a season ago, a shot.
With Thomas Vanek questionable to play tonight against the Calgary Flames, Iowa's second-leading scorer was recalled by the Wild this morning to likely make his NHL debut. He would be the second Wild player to make his NHL debut this season (Tyler Graovac). Keranen's a winger, Graovac a center, and the Wild needs a winger if Vanek is hurt.
"[Keranen's] earned this opportunity," director of minor-league operations Jim Mill said by phone from Charlotte, where the Iowa Wild faces the Checkers tonight.
Keranen is second behind Graovac in Iowa scoring with 32 points (9 goals) in 52 games and a team-leading 23 assists. He is minus-7 and second on the team with 113 shots.
Keranen had 17 goals and 35 assists for Ilves Tampere in Finland's Elite League last season. The 6-1, 175-pounder tied for the Elite League lead in scoring with 52 points and won the Golden Helmet Award as the league's best player. Keranen had 13 goals in 2012-13 for Ilves, a team he has played for during the past four seasons. He's a left-handed shooter and was signed as a European free agent last June.
He flashed skill in training camp, assisting on two goals in an exhibition win against Winnipeg, but the Wild sent him to the minors to adjust to the North American pro game. In camp, he was getting used to the Wild's system defensively, had a tendency to overpass and needed to improve in the dirty areas and with his strength on the puck. That has by all accounts also been a work in progress during his first year pro in Iowa.
But there's no denying Keranen's skill and speed, and after Monday's loss in Vancouver, the Wild's clearly looking for an influx of skill.
"He’s a smart hockey player," Mill said. "He thinks the game real well and he’s had to adjust to the smaller ice surface, which he’s done and done well.
"I think the pace of game, because he doesn’t have as much room, that’s where he’s had to adapt and he has. He’s been very, very good for us down here for, geez, a month or two. He was always fine, but his game has gotten better specifically over the last month."
Keranen was born in Stockholm, Sweden, but grew up in Finland and has represented Finland in international events.
The Wild's morning skate is at 11:30 a.m. Mountain Time. We'll see then if the lineup tonight includes Vanek and Keranen is replacing somebody else or if Keranen plays for Vanek. Coach Mike Yeo wasn't very convincing yesterday when he said he expected Vanek to play. And Vanek has been walking with a visible limp the last little while and has been clearly playing through a lower-body injury lately.