As already covered by Gone Puck Wild, the Minnesota Wild will take on the St. Louis Blues in a 7pm matchup in St. Louis. According to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, Marco Scandella is on his way to meet the team in St. Louis. Because of this, Matt Dumba is being returned to Red Deer of the Western Hockey League. Scandella will skate with rookie defenseman Jonas Brodin and Wild blue-liner Nate Prosser will be the man coming out of tonight’s roster as it sounds like Coach Yeo hasn’t been a fan of his recent play. Minnesota Wild enforcer Matt Kassian will likely make his season debut tonight against a tough, gritty Blues squad that has yet to give up a goal at home this season.
Not only should tonight be a good matchup, but it also is significant in the fact that this will mark the first occasion that top Wild prospect Mikael Granlund will face top Blues prospect Vladimir Tarasenko in the NHL. Both drafted in 2010, Granlund was drafted 9th overall by Minnesota, while the “Russian Factor” had Tarasenko’s stock fall to the Blues at 16th overall. While both were and are highly touted players, the NHL would not see them arrive for another two and a half years. During that time, both would gain great experience playing pro hockey in their respective countries. Granlund put up 41 goals and 86 assists for 127 points and 34 penalty minutes in 129 games in Finland’s top pro hockey league, the SM-Liiga. In 207 KHL games, Tarasenko would pot 66 goals and notch 65 assists for 131 points and 51 penalty minutes.
Both players were instrumental in international play, as well. Granlund would score 11 goals and 36 helpers for 47 points in 31 World Junior Championship games for Finland and also scored two goals and 11 assists for 13 points in 16 World Championship games. He was also played a very important role in securing Finland’s gold medal during the 2011 Men’s tournament, scoring an unbelievable lacrosse-style goal from behind the net in a victory over Russia. Tarasenko would score 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points in 20 WJC games en route to leading his teams to both the U-18 silver in 2009 and U-20 gold in 2011. He also potted a goal in six games with Russia’s senior team in 2011.
As anyone can see, both young men have entered the NHL with impressive portfolios. Now the question is: will their elite play translate to the best hockey league in the world? In such a small sample, it’s truly hard to say. However, Tarasenko is off to a surprisingly fast start, having potted four goals and three assists for seven points along with a plus-4 rating in just five games. He currently sits at 10th in league scoring, just four points behind San Jose’s Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton at 11 points.
Granlund (one goal, one assist), on the other hand, hasn’t fared so well, not unlike Minnesota’s secondary offense as a whole. Aside from a frighteningly good top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley, the Wild has seen next to no offense from the remaining three forward lines. Granlund and Pierre-Marc Bouchard both have goals, but that’s it. It sounds like Yeo will be moving Bouchard up from the third line to the second line, which means either Matt Cullen goes down to the third or Yeo will find a way to insert Kassian into the lineup.
Hopefully, Butch will provide a spark to the second line that will get both Granlund and Devin Setoguchi going. However, what the second line really needs is a big power forward that can create room for Granlund to work his puck magic. At 5’10” and 180-pounds, the Finnish phenom isn’t the biggest guy on the ice. Opposing teams, knowing his superb skills, have used that to their advantage, playing a rough, physical game that effectively shuts down the Wild rookie. What the Minnesota front office needs to do is find a way to get that big power forward. Whether it’s Charlie Coyle or Nick Palmieri, they have the means within their farm system. Granlund, Coyle and fellow top prospect Jason Zucker developed great chemistry as Houston’s top line during the lockout. Adding Coyle to the second line could hopefully reignite that chemistry and would also benefit whoever else is on that line, whether it’s Bouchard or Setoguchi.
While both young men will experience growing pains as they adjust to the North American game, both will no doubt have long and successful careers in the NHL. Tonight may not be pretty, but it could be the start of a long and beautiful rivalry that realignment will only magnify. You can bet that Wild fans can’t wait.