You’re looking at a guy here who is good enough to probably play obviously in your top six on a lot of nights … but could start in the bottom because he’s got great ice awareness in all three zones. - Troy G. Ward on Markus Granlund
GLENS FALLS, NY -- When Markus Granlund arrived at development camp last summer, no one knew quite what to expect.
He had signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Calgary Flames last April and was poised to make the jump from playing in Europe to North America. He spent the past two seasons playing against men with HIFK Helsinki in SM-liiga but there were questions about how his game would translate to the North American pro game.
He acquitted himself well in camp, squaring off against his fellow Flames prospects well, so the next test would come in Pentiction at the 2013 Young Stars Classic. There, he would be challenged by the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, and San Jose Sharks' top prospects and would be able to see how he stacked up.
The 21-year-old responded by rattling off three goals and four points in three games, leading all skaters in scoring.
It was at that tournament that Abbotsford Heat coach Troy G. Ward saw enough to think Granlund could not only play at the American Hockey League level but perhaps also get a shot with the Flames.
"I think right after the Penticton young guns tournament, we felt that’s potentially where he would go. We just didn’t know when he would get there," Ward told Sportsnet The FAN 960. "Language was a barrier. We wanted to make sure we get through that and making him feel comfortable here.
"Thankfully we had Joni Ortio, that started with our team here. So those two obviously had a really tight bond. I thought that was the yin and the yang all year, those two ended up being, in their own ways, co-MVP’s ironically. They communicated together and I thought that helped Markus take flight here the most. I just felt he was grounded."
It wasn't just Ortio that helped Granlund acclimatize to his new country. His whole team embraced him and guided him through any language hurdles he was facing, showed him around Abbotsford, and steered him through day-to-day issues.
"He’s in good shape. He’s in really good shape. He made great strides," Ward explained. "We had a good, good group of guys here, like really tight. Probably one of the tighter group of guys I’ve ever been around in my life coaching. I thought he jumped right in and he was accepted, did really well, and has taken flight within his team and obviously North America.”
With his confidence buoyed by his teammates, the coaching staff, and the Flames management, Granlund set his sights on making an impact in the league.
He started slowly, going through a feeling-out process with the Heat, managing three points in his first six games. However, when the calendar turned to November, Granlund took off.
In his next 47 games in Heat silks, the Oulo, FIN native registered 24 goals and 43 points. He put 121 shots on net in that span and managed an 11-game point streak.
"He’ll make a real strong push up there," Ward summarized. "Obviously there are things that have to be settled out throughout management this summer with some free agents, depending on who is signed and who is not. But you’re looking at a guy here who is good enough to probably play obviously in your top six on a lot of nights … but could start in the bottom because he’s got great ice awareness in all three zones.
"He’s a responsible player. He’s a 200-foot player, as we say. He’s going to get opportunities right away."
The forward's performance in Abbotsford caught management's eye and they decided to give him a taste of the NHL. He made his NHL debut on Feb. 27 against the Los Angeles and ended up playing in seven games before a shoulder injury ended his regular season.
Granlund spent a month in Calgary to recover under the watchful eye of the Flames medical staff before being deemed ready to play for the Heat.
He played in two regular season games and then led the Heat in playoff scoring with two goals and five points in four outings against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Granlund has set himself up nicely for his sophomore season, garnering more and more confidence as the 2013-14 campaign rolled along. He will make a big push to land on the Flames opening night roster but if does head to Glens Falls to start the season with the Adirondack Flames, it will ultimately benefit his game.
"In the end, if we’re deep and we have enough players signed up there, the good thing for him is that it’s never going to hurt him to continue to develop at the minor league level and just hone his game, mature, grow up," Ward explained.
"Those are going to be things that are advantageous for him but if it comes to fruition, where he starts up there, obviously he’s proven this spring that he can take flight."
Listen to Ward's full interview HERE.