We’re a little over a quarter of the way through the season, and Minnesota has already seen the NHL debuts of four top prospects. Gone Puck Wild takes a look at how well they’ve fared so far in their young NHL careers.
Mikael Granlund, C, 2010 NHL Entry Draft 9th overall pick
Even with the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Granlund entered the season with the weight of an entire franchise resting on his young shoulders. After scoring his first career NHL goal in his first game in Iron Range Red, the Finnish Phenom struggled—notching just two assists in his next 10 games, and sitting an additional game in the press box. However, Granlund does enter tonight’s game against the Detroit Red Wings on a two-game point streak with two assists. In 13 games, Granlund has scored a goal and notched four assists for five points and a negative-3 rating. The young man wearing #64 has grown increasingly better with each game played and will certainly have a long and successful NHL career in Minnesota.
Jonas Brodin, D, 2011 NHL Entry Draft 10th overall pick
Brodin may be the biggest surprise of Minnesota rookies to make their NHL debuts this season. Prior to the lockout, he was expected to be a serious contender in training camp. With the start of the NHL season looking quite doubtful, Brodin made his North American debut with the Wild’s minor league affiliate, the Houston Aeros, and looked quite sharp in the team’s first eight games—even scoring the Aeros’ first goal of the season. However, an upper-body injury received via a Taylor Hall clobbering in a game against the Oilers’ Oklahoma City Barons put the Wild’s No. 1 defensive prospect on the shelf for what looked to be a long time.
However, Brodin made his recovery in time for Minnesota’s ultra-short six-day training camp and was sent down to Houston for one more game of seasoning before making his NHL debut against the Detroit Red Wings on January 25th. Though Minnesota lost 5-3 to the Wings in Detroit, Brodin was impressive—firing two shots on net, collecting an assist, an even plus-minus rating and two penalty minutes in 19:05 of ice time. What’s more, his defensive prowess and skating ability was quite apparent throughout the game and fans got a glimpse at just how high this kid’s ceiling might be. In 11 games with Minnesota, the Swedish Sensation has notched three assists, a negative-1 plus-minus rating, has fired 15 shots on goal while unleashing a surprisingly heavy slap shot, and has logged an average of 22:18 of ice time a night—second only to Edmonton’s Justin Schultz at 22:55. Just 11 games into his career—and at only 19 years of age—the 10th overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft may have cemented his spot on Minnesota’s top pairing with Ryan Suter. Not too bad.
Charlie Coyle, RW, 2010 NHL Entry Draft 28th overall pick
Charlie Coyle was called up to add some size, grit and scoring to Minnesota’s struggling top-6 forward group. Though he didn’t find the score sheet in his five-game cup of coffee with the Wild, he was certainly impressive. Coyle was excellent on both sides of the puck and was robbed of his first career NHL goal on a few different occasions, most notably by Phoenix netminder Mike Smith in Coyle’s NHL debut. The 28th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft used his size well to separate opposing players from the puck and was quite good at creating scoring chances. In fact, his only problem may very well have been passing the puck when he should have shot it. While he was sent back down to Houston earlier this past week, Wild fans shouldn’t fret—we haven’t seen the last of Sir Charles, not by a long shot.
Darcy Kuemper, G, 2009 NHL Entry Draft 161st overall pick
Kuemper’s call-up took many Wild fans by surprise. With backup goaltender Josh Harding feeling “a bit off” because of the medications he’s taking to treat his MS, Minnesota needed to find a goaltender to give starter Niklas Backstrom a break in net. Was Matt Hackett Minnesota’s go-to guy? Nope, it was big 6’5” 207-pound 2010-2011 CHL Goaltender of the Year Darcy Kuemper, who Wild GM Chuck Fletcher praised, calling him the best goaltender in the AHL during the past month.
It was a good thing that Kuemper is so good, otherwise Minnesota’s loss to the Vancouver Canucks that night could have been a lot worse. Kuemper was a rock, stopping 28 of 30 shots for a .933 save percentage and effectively shut down the deadly Sedin twins in his NHL debut—a 2-1 loss. Until Harding gets his medication situation figured out, Minnesota can rest easy knowing they’ve got a boulder for a backup and a very athletic, bubbly one at that. I’ll tell you what, this kid looks good in a Wild sweater and I honestly hope he’s in one for a long, long time.
Another night, another NHL debut
Tonight will mark the fifth time a Minnesota Wild rookie will make his NHL debut this season. Not only will Jason Zucker make his season debut after notching two assists in six games last year, but Johan Larsson, the captain of Sweden’s 2012 WJC gold medal-winning squad, makes his NHL debut when the Wild take the ice against Detroit. Most Wild fans know what to expect from Zucker–but what can we expect from Larsson? Without question, fans can expect a smart, defensive-first forward that is very responsible in all zones with the puck and can also pot a few goals, as well. Realistically, we’re probably looking at Kyle Brodziak’s future replacement as third line center.
No matter what, it’s been exciting to see a glimpse of Minnesota’s future with the impressive debuts of the team’s prospects. If the future is as bright as all indications show it should be, Minnesota Wild fans, be ready to sit back and enjoy the ride—it’s going to be spectacular.