On the day he re-signed Mikael Granlund to a new contract last July, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher surmised that a subpar 2014-15 season would become just that — one down year for his young center.
“I don’t think anybody anticipates Granlund being an eight-goal, 40-point guy for the rest of his career,” Fletcher said after signing Granlund to a two-year, $6 million deal. “He’s going to, I think, take off here over the next two years.”
The waiting continues.
Tick, tick, tick, tick.
Granlund has become the poster child for slow development — or stunted in some cases — by a nucleus of young players who were supposed to help turn the Wild into Stanley Cup contenders.
A few youngsters pushed back against that narrative Tuesday night in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars at Xcel Energy Center.
Erik Haula scored on a backhander on a first-period breakaway.
Matt Dumba had a hand — or an arm or some other body part — on a game-tying goal by Mikko Koivu in the third period.
Even Granlund came out of hiding with a spirited shift late in regulation.
It wasn’t enough to stop the Wild’s disheartening free fall, but at least the youngsters brought something to the party.
Fletcher staked his team’s future, and possibly his job, on the belief that a group that includes Granlund, Dumba, Haula, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin and Nino Niederreiter would grow and improve individually, and then collectively complement the veteran pieces on a roster built to win now.
His plan looks murky at present.
Of that young core, only Coyle, with a career-high 14 goals, is having what can be deemed an encouraging season to this point.
As a whole, the young core is underachieving, and that becomes a major problem for Fletcher if things don’t quickly change.
That doesn’t mean they’ve all hit their ceiling and are incapable of doing more. Nobody is calling for Fletcher to give up on those players.
And to be fair, the veterans aren’t exactly pulling their weight, either. See: Pominville, Jason.
But stagnant development within that core of young players feels particularly concerning because this is not a short-term conversation. If that group doesn’t reach levels anticipated internally, the Wild is in trouble, this season and beyond.
Fletcher opted to keep the roster mostly intact after another second-round playoff elimination last spring because 1) he had no other real options given contract constraints with existing players and 2) he believes in his youngsters.
“None of them have hit their prime or hit their peak,” Fletcher said last May. “So that’s where the growth is going to come and we’ll see what other opportunities are out there.”
Some want to blame Mike Yeo and his staff for not developing young talent faster, but that’s a tricky discussion. Zucker and Dumba made significant strides last season before regressing this season.
If Yeo deserves criticism for their struggles, shouldn’t he also receive credit for their improvement last season?
Granlund’s slump is more pronounced than the others because he carries such a prominent role. His lack of production underscores a glaring deficiency in the Wild’s roster, the lack of a true No. 1 center.
Granlund has managed only four goals and 22 points this season, including zero goals and two assists in the past 14 games.
He never has scored more than eight goals or finished with more than 41 points in three previous NHL seasons.
“I don’t know if there’s pressure,” Granlund said. “But obviously I want to take the next step in my game and be able to actually put up some numbers and help the team.”
Oddly, both Granlund and Yeo sounded mostly encouraged by his play this season with the obvious exception of his stats. They point to his ability to generate scoring chances, a popular fallback when teams or players are stuck in a dry spell.
For the millionth time, yes, chances are important, but results ultimately are all that matters. And Granlund’s measly production as a first-line center is problematic.
“It’s frustrating but when you are getting chances and you’re creating those, then you kind of feel good about the game,” Granlund said. “Obviously, it would be nice to put one in.”
Chip Scoggins email@example.com