Mikael Granlund, a star in Finland who many around the NHL felt would be a Calder Trophy contender this season, was assigned by the Wild to the AHL’s Houston Aeros on Tuesday in order to get quality ice time and renewed confidence.
The 21-year-old Granlund, who struggled to find a role since the Wild stopped playing him as its second-line center Feb. 4, had been scratched in four of the past eight games.
“Young kids have to play,” said coach Mike Yeo, who has started to settle on four lines that haven’t included Granlund or veteran Pierre-Marc Bouchard. “As an organization, [Granlund’s] too important to us to have him sit here not playing. …It’s just a step in his development and this is just an opportunity for him to go there to get some confidence, get some quality minutes and to make sure when we need him that he’s on top of his game.”
Yeo said Granlund, who had one goal and five assists in 19 games, was “understanding but disappointed.”
The objective is for Granlund to go to Houston and play first-line minutes on the first power play. Many top NHL players have spent the early parts of their careers shuttling back and forth to the minors.
Charlie Coyle, who like Granlund is a 2010 first-round pick, started the year in Houston. He was called up, played five games, was reassigned and has been back for nine games since. With two goals and two assists, he looks like a more confident player.
“Confidence is everything,” Coyle said. “Some guys take more time than others, but he has the skill, he has the game to play here. He can score, he can pass, just so much skill. He works hard at it, too.”
Granlund had started to play better. In Finland, because of the bigger ice, he had more time to make plays. He had shown signs of adapting, and he was much more physical.
Granlund’s skill is undeniable, but at 5-10, he does lack size. Fellow rookie Jason Zucker also is 5-10, but he possesses the high-end speed Granlund lacks.
Nevertheless, Yeo isn’t worried.
“He’s definitely learned how to battle and compete at this level,” Yeo said. “His pace will not be a problem whatsoever. It’s just a matter of continuing to develop, continuing to get confidence and learning the league. We have no doubt that he’ll get there.”
‘Young pup’ turns 30
Wild captain Mikko Koivu celebrated his 30th birthday Tuesday, but older brother Saku, 38, who plays for the Ducks, didn’t buy dinner Monday.
“I bought that as usual,” said Mikko, who added he still “feels like a young pup.”
Tuesday was the 16th Koivu Brother showdown. “You always know that he’s there,” Mikko said.
Koivu is impressed his brother, as well as countryman Teemu Selanne, 42, still play at such a high level.
“They do a lot of things the right way,” Koivu said. “I had a chance to play with both. The kind of professionals they are, I’m not surprised. They’re competitors, too. They want to win.”
Wearing baby blue pads, Zach Sikich, 32, a local goalie coach in Apple Valley who played for Eveleth High School, backed up Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller during warmups and the start of the first period. Sikich was called in when the slated starter, Viktor Fasth, sustained an upper-body injury at the morning skate. Jeff Deslauriers replaced Sikich 2:27 into the game.
• The Wild traded Aeros forward Matt Kassian, who played 26 NHL games over parts of two seasons, to the Ottawa Senators for a 2014 sixth-round draft pick.
• Bouchard was scratched for a third consecutive game. Defenseman Tom Gilbert, who missed Sunday’s game because he was ill, returned. Nate Prosser was scratched.
• Notre Dame’s Mario Lucia, a 2011 second-round pick by the Wild, was named to the CCHA all-rookie team. The Wayzata native scored 12 goals and 21 points in his freshman season.