Jan 30, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) is congratulated for his goal by left wing Dany Heatley (15) and center Mikael Granlund (64) on Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) in the first period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Wild's Mikael Granlund Ready to Play Game One

The Minnesota Wild has arrived in the Mile High City to take on the Colorado Avalanche in the next chapter of its 14-year division rivalry, though this time it comes within the much more difficult Central Division.

Minnesota isn’t the team it was last season. In fact, it’s remarkably better. Still, Colorado is considered the favorite in this particular matchup. Fortunately for the Wild, the return of second line center Mikael Granlund should help boost the team’s offensive production considerably.

In his sophomore campaign, Granlund has more than made up for his disappointing rookie season, scoring eight goals and 33 assists for fifth in team scoring with 41 points and a negative-3 rating in 63 games. Labeled a bust at the end of last season, Granny has established himself as one of the team’s best two-way players, winning key face-offs, playing well on both sides of the puck, creating tons of scoring chances and countering physical play with some of his own. Unfortunately, that’s also his downfall.

Granlund is small at 5’10” 186-pounds, but don’t tell him that. After taking enough hits and physical play last season, Granlund has been able to dish it out himself this year. The problem is that, with a history of head injuries, he can knock himself out of the game if he isn’t careful. It was a hit made on LA’s Jarret Stoll on March 31st that caused Granlund to miss the last six games of the season. He should be ready for Game One tomorrow, but Minnesota’s coaching staff needs to sit down with him and help him tweak his game a bit.
If Granlund is going to have a long and prosperous NHL career as his ceiling suggests, he needs to adapt his game to the point where’s he’s still a constant offensive threat while taking as few hits as possible. He’s got to play like a Pavel Datsyuk or Martin St. Louis, otherwise he’ll be just another Pierre-Marc Bouchard–a talented player no NHL GM is willing to take a chance on because of his extensive concussion history.
For now, Granlund is young, healthy and has a special connection with Wild top goal scorer Jason Pominville. Colorado needs to be careful not to give too much attention to the top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle, because this dynamic duo with Matt Moulson skating on the left wing has the potential to make the Avalanche pay big time.
In other news, Minnesota is bringing not just two goaltenders along on the road, but three. In addition to starter Ilya Bryzgalov and minor league call-up John Curry, the Wild will also bring rookie Darcy Kuemper, who is close to making his return from injury. Season starter Josh Harding is also determined to make a return in time for playoff action after missing the second half of the season with multiple sclerosis medication issues. In 29 games this season, Harding posted an 18-7-3 record with three shutouts while leading the league with a 1.65 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. He did not make the trip.
Finally, the Wild reassigned NHL journeyman Jake Dowell to Iowa of the American Hockey League. In 55 games with the Baby Wild this season, Dowell has six goals and 11 assists for 17 points and a negative-13 rating.

Tags: 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs Darcy Kuemper Jake Dowell Mikael Granlund

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