VANCOUVER – Part of it was impressive, part of it was alarming.
Mikael Granlund showed no hesitance to throw his undersized body into harm’s way in the first two games of this road trip that ends Sunday afternoon against the Canucks.
The Wild badly wants Granlund to remain a staple in its lineup, yet despite the No. 1 center missing a month because of a broken wrist and despite a history of concussions, Granlund continues to be willing to initiate physical play and take a hit to make a play.
Early in Tuesday’s victory at Edmonton, Granlund crashed the net and had his head used as a punching bag. Later in the second period, Granlund was demolished near the Wild bench by Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry.
“I was fine with that,” Granlund said. “I’m not going to change my game. You have to be willing to take a hit to make a play. You need to recognize when you can make a play and when not and maybe sometimes when you really can’t make the play, you need to be smarter and shouldn’t take a hit or make a hit. You’ve got to decide if it’s worth it.”
Still, at 5-10 and 185 pounds, Granlund may want to start looking at the careers of Patrick Kane and Martin St. Louis and study how they’ve been so effective for years while also avoiding the contact that causes wear and tear. The Wild wants Granlund to have a long, healthy career and so far in parts of three seasons, he has sustained an exorbitant number of injuries.
It’s a delicate, fine line, coach Mike Yeo said.
“I don’t know if I want to start getting in the habit of asking guys not to compete as hard as they can, but I think there are certain situations where he can maybe avoid putting himself in a vulnerable position, maybe he can protect himself a little bit more in certain areas,” Yeo said. “But at the same token, that’s what makes him an effective player — his compete level.”
Granlund said that when he feels on top of his game, “that’s what I bring. Obviously I’ve got to be smart and realize when to go there and when not, but I want to keep that part of my game. I really feel like that’s a good part of my game and when I’m on top of my game, usually I’ll do that.”
He said it’s the Finn in him.
“That’s the way you learn [in Finland], and I feel that’s what you need if you want to win something,” said Granlund, 22. “It’s hard to be worried about changing the way you play. That’s why I really can’t think about it. In hockey injuries happen, and injuries also happen when you try to play too safe.”
Yeo said Granlund is “a very important player to our lineup and we have to make sure we keep him in the lineup. ... When you look at some of the smaller guys who are really effective, they are very competitive, too. They’re able to protect themselves by avoiding hits and being aware of the play, but at the same time you can’t shy away all the time, too.”
Granlund has looked surprisingly good his first two games after wrist surgery. He has no points but is plus-1 with five shots on goal. He had 41 points in 63 games last season. But in 34 games this season, he only has four goals and 15 points.
“If you play a big role and play with really good players, you’ve got to have some production, too,” Granlund said. “That’s just a fact. At the same point, I think there’s a lot of good things in my game, but I’ve got to improve the last couple months and I plan to do that.”