When Minnesota Wild GM, Chuck Fletcher pulled Mikael Granlund from the Houston Aeros lineup on Saturday, you knew a new CBA deal was imminent. But what Wild fans may have been surprised to learn is that heading into Wild camp, Mikael Granlund is pegged as the number two center. Interesting to say the least given the rookie is only 20-years old which will have many wondering if he’s ready to slide into such a demanding role.
The ninth-overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is having a fine year with the Houston Aeros of the AHL. To date, Granlund has 8 goals and 13 assists, good for 21 points in 21 games while sporting a minus-4 rating. A point a game average for the centermen who missed eight games with an ankle sprain is above average production and has helped silence many critics who question whether or not Granlund can play the North American game.
The Finnish native played the previous three season in his home country while suiting up in one of the top Finnish pro leagues. As a 17-year old, Granlund put up 40 points in 43 games. The next two seasons he would register 87 points in 84 games and I don’t care who you are, anytime a teenager can put up those kinds of numbers against men, you know he’s going to be special.
But to label Granlund as the number two center is putting a lot of pressure on the kid. This is a line that is relied upon to produce some much needed secondary scoring, something that is so invaluable which many teams that don’t make the playoffs don’t have.
He’s proven he can play at the pro level in Finland and he’s fit in nicely in Houston in what has been a talented league with many NHL players being eligible to play in the AHL. But this is the NHL we’re talking about. A game that will be a step up from anything he’s ever played at before.
When looking at the Wild roster, there doesn’t appear to be anyone who could challenge Granlund for the job however. Pierre-Marc Bouchard is the logical number two man up the middle, but he has yet to be cleared by medical doctors and his status is still unknown even for training camp, let alone the season.
Kyle Brodziak is your typical third line center who can contribute offensively but also play the role of shut down man in his own zone. If the Wild were to rely on Brodziak for second line scoring, they will be in trouble.
Matt Cullen would be the next center to fill the void on the number two line, but as Michael Russo of the Star Tribune tweeted on Saturday night, it appears the plan right now is to have Cullen on the left wing with Granlund while Devin Setoguchi will flank the right side. Not a bad second line, but again, could they provide enough secondary scoring to the top line that will likely start out as Dany Healey, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu.
That question remains to be answered and we’ll find out soon enough when training camp opens up this week. Of course this is how things will start out in camp and by no means is it how they’ll finish the season. Line juggling will happen, especially if one or more of the top players struggle. The same goes for Granlund; should he struggle once the season starts he could find himself on the third line in which case Cullen would take over. Or, on a long shot, Parise or Koivu could be moved to the second line to provide a more balanced attack.
For now we know that Mikael Granlund will get the opportunity of a lifetime and it will be up to him to make the most of it. Will he produce enough to be the Wild’s second line center? If his past hockey seasons have taught us anything, it’s don’t write this kid off just yet. He may surprise you.