In a season filled with injuries, sophomore top-6 center Mikael Granlund has been nothing short of a breath of fresh air for a typical offensively challenged Minnesota Wild club.
After a rough up-and-down rookie season last year, Granlund is currently fifth in team scoring with eight goals and 33 assists for 41 points and a negative-3 rating in 63 games. In addition, he’s proven himself to be a key faceoff specialist with a 52.6% success rate. Now, a head injury threatens the rest of his season, and–if not treated carefully–potentially his career.
Minnesota sports fans live in a sort of sports “Hell”, so to speak. The Timberwolves struggle every season. The Twins have a couple championships, but are currently in the midst of a several season slump. The Vikings have been to the Super Bowl four times, yet have failed to bring home any hardware. The Wild have been to the postseason just four times in the history of the franchise. And the Lynx? Well, they can’t lose a championship to save their lives. Go figure.
Part of this troubled existence is injuries to big name players. For the Wild, the biggest name that comes to mind, aside from Granlund and the legendary glass groin of first ever draft pick Marian Gaborik, is Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Drafted eighth overall in 2002, Bouchard was an offensive dynamo in a small and skinny 5’10″ package, having dominated the Quebec League in his draft eligible year with 46 goals and 94 assists for a staggering 140 points and a plus-25 rating in 69 games with Chicoutimi.
In 111 games over the course of his first two seasons with Minnesota, Bouchard scored 11 goals and 31 assists for 42 points and a negative-6 rating. His production jumped considerably after that, as he logged four straight seasons in which he never scored less than 13 goals and 46 points. However, a hit to the head late in the ’08-’09 season would limit him to just one game in ’09-’10.
Bouchard returned on December 1st, 2010, having missed 13 months and 112 games. Unfortunately, he was now damaged goods. Butch would spend his final three seasons with Minnesota in and out of the lineup with injuries–mostly to the head–scoring 29 goals and 51 assists for 80 points in 139 regular season games.
Going unsigned by the Wild heading into this past summer, Bouchard chose to sign with the New York Islanders. In 28 games, he would score four goals and five assists for nine points and a negative-9 rating. Bouchard would wind up on the waiver wire, joining the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL where he would score six goals and 11 assists for 17 points and a negative-2 rating in 20 games. He was later traded to the Chicago Blackhawks organization, where he has scored two goals and 17 assists for 19 points and an even plus-minus rating in 18 games. As good as he is, there’s almost no chance he’ll ever play for the Blackhawks.
Though Bouchard is only 29, it’s not a pretty situation for one of Minnesota’s former bright young stars. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and his coaching staff want to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen with Granlund.
Granny is no longer the timid player he was last year. He’s skilled, confident and plays exceptionally well on either side of the puck. He’s also a competitor and isn’t afraid to take or make a hit for the good of the team. The problem is, that’s what has him in his current predicament. Granny went in for a hit on Jarret Stoll in Monday night’s 3-2 win over Los Angeles and wound up getting the worst of it with a raspberry to the face and concussion-like symptoms. The last time he got the worst of his own check, he missed 11 games with a concussion.
That said, it may be time to sit Granlund down and break it to him that his 5’10″ 186-pound frame is designed more for finesse than brute strength. Leave the gruff stuff to Charlie Coyle, who’s more than happy to manhandle his way around the ice. Granlund wasn’t drafted to be a grinder or a power forward; he’s an elite caliber playmaker and dangler–or–at least, that’s what his ceiling suggests.
The sooner the club has this heart-to-heart with its star young gun, the sooner Minnesota may actually be able to dig itself out of sports Hell with a successful Wild franchise and instead find the welcome embrace of being just plain average. That’s all the citizens of the State of Hockey ask.