Upon hearing of Mikael Granlund’s milestone — he will play in his 400th NHL game Saturday night, when the Wild plays its home opener — defenseman Matt Dumba was the first to congratulate his friend, shouting as the winger passed him after practice Friday at Tria Rink.
“Oh yeah, thank you,” Granlund said. “You’re really happy about that.”
“I am,” Dumba said. “I can’t wait for tomorrow before the game.”
That exchange might have been more chirping than genuine in nature, but Granlund’s importance to the team is no joking matter. Now in his seventh season, the 26-year-old has 78 goals and 190 assists.
In fact, his impact on the team left coach Bruce Boudreau a little lost for words.
“He’s our best offensive weapon or has been the last two years,” Boudreau said. “So you can count his importance on, like, yeah. It’s way up there.”
Linemate Jason Zucker called Granlund’s contribution “huge.”
“He’s obviously a great playmaker and for me benefiting from playing with him a lot,” Zucker said. “He’s a great guy to play with, great linemate. But he’s a really, really good teammate.”
Zucker and Granlund are a part of the same contingent of young players, including Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jonas Brodin, that all joined the organization around the same time. But with them starting to reach such career milestones, it’s making them all realize they are moving into veteran status.
Granlund was surprised to hear he will eclipse 400 games when the Wild faces defending Western Conference champion Vegas at Xcel Energy Center.
“That’s kind of awesome. That’s a lot of games,” Granlund said. “It feels like yesterday when I got here for the first time. … I love the city. I love the team. And it’s been a lot of great years here. So hopefully I can keep playing here.”
Dumba, at least, did have some actually sincere thoughts on Granlund’s influence.
“He’s awesome. He brings so much talent-wise for our group. He’s always working hard,” Dumba said. “Me and Granny have become real good friends, so it’s pretty cool to see us come up in this league together. You just snap your fingers, and he’s already at 400. It’s crazy to think about.”
Last season, the Wild tied for second in the NHL for the most home points, going 27-6-8 at the X. That also ranked second for the most home points in a season all-time for the franchise.
Boudreau and the players point to the fans as the explanation for why the Wild is so successful in St. Paul. Granlund said playing in such a knowledgeable and passionate hockey market holds the team to higher standards.
“If you’re not playing good enough, you’re going to hear it,” Granlund said. “But when you play good, they’re going to appreciate that. And that’s one of the reasons we’ve been good at home.”
This game Saturday kicks off a three-game homestand and is also the first of seven home games this month. Even though the season just started, Boudreau is pushing his players to capitalize on this opportunity to stockpile points early.
“This is what it’s all about. We now have some home games in a row. This is where you make hay, right now,” Boudreau said. “Sometimes in parts of the schedule, you sit there, and you go, ‘OK, this is the time you’ve got to jump.’ Well, we’ve got a lot of home games for the rest of the month. This is the time where we’ve got to do what we can do.”