It didn’t take long for Minnesota’s top pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft to score his first career goal in the greatest hockey league in the world. After winning the faceoff to the right of Colorado Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov, Granlund got the puck to linemate Devin Setoguchi, who passed it to defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who then fired the puck in on net. Granlund deflected the puck on its way to the net, stopped to double check and smiled in celebration of the first of what will likely be many goals scored by the talented young center in the NHL.
So far in Minnesota’s short season, Granlund has performed quite well in his first bit of NHL action. The young Finnish phenom has won faceoffs, created offensive chances, scored a goal and even blocked a shot. Even though he didn’t score in Minnesota’s 1-0 win against the Dallas Stars on Sunday night, he was dangerous every time he hopped the boards. Not only was he on the ice for Zach Parise’s first goal in a Wild sweater, but he also set up linemate Matt Cullen with a beautiful pass from behind the net for a great chance right in front of the crease. In fact, if rookie netminder Nilstorp hadn’t stood on his head the entire game, Granlund and his line probably would have found a way to get one or two pucks into the back of the net.
As the game went on, it became quite clear that Granlund was confident and comfortable on the ice. He played the game like a seasoned veteran which, of course, he is considering he has played four seasons of professional hockey between Finland’s SM-Liiga, the AHL and now the NHL. The interesting thing was to see him on the bench after he scored on Saturday; there was no goofy grin or dazed look saying, “Did I just score a goal in the NHL?” No, Granlund was back to his normal determined self, ready to jump the boards at any moment for the next shift. That, in and of itself, speaks to his maturity as a hockey player and as a human being.
Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo can be confident that he’s got an elite player on the ice every time Granlund takes a shift. As the season progresses, he’ll get more scoring chances and you can guarantee he’ll set up Cullen and Setoguchi with plenty of beautiful passes to convert into scoring chances. Once this line gels, and they get a few games under their belts, the scoring will come and his confidence will only continue to build. Granlund has proved he is a very unselfish player and is a guy that his coach can be comfortable with in all situations and he is, indeed, a guy that will be used in all situations.
Will Mikael Granlund be the next Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin? No, it’s looking like that title belongs to the St. Louis Blues’ young Vladimir Tarasenko. Could he be the next Teemu Selanne? That’s still a lofty comparison, but it’s certainly possible. At worst, it looks like Minnesota has a very solid perennial All-Star caliber player that will be playing in the NHL for a long, long time. That doesn’t sound too bad at all.