On each weekday between now and the first round of the NHL Entry Draft on June 25, we'll be profiling one of 10 players who could be chosen with the seventh overall pick by Carolina. Today's subject is Finnish center Mikael Granlund. Previously: Alexander Burmistrov
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NHL teams would typically prefer European prospects to play junior or college hockey in North America if possible, but Finnish center Mikael Granlund probably did himself a favor by staying home.
In his first full season with HIFK of the Finnish Elite League, Granlund posted 40 points in 43 games as a 17- and 18-year-old playing with men. Being able to accomplish that feat in a physical league has helped ease concerns about his 5-foot-10, 180 pound frame that may still exist had he suited up against players his own age.
“I think the thing that Granlund has going for him is that he’s already shown he can play with men and can excel,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “When you’re at a point-per-game as a draft-eligible player in the Finnish Elite League, that’s impressive.”
The significance of the Finnish league is that it is widely thought to be most similar to the NHL in terms of style and physical play – it does not have a reputation as a finesse-based league like some others in Europe. Granlund’s mettle has thus been tested, and he’s passed with flying colors.
“Despite the fact that he looks a bit small, he gets the job done,” said Karmanos. “He’s a guy that is not tall but has got some strength to him, and more than anything his game is based on tenacity and smarts. He’s found a way to do it already with men at that level, so you would think he’d figure out a way to do it at this level.”
Granlund has often drawn comparisons to Saku Koivu, the longtime Montreal Canadiens captain who spent last season with the Anaheim Ducks. Beyond the obvious in that they’re both centers from Finland, further similarities exist. Koivu checks in a near-identical 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, with Granlund showing many of the same skills and tendencies that helped his countryman record 693 points over 14 NHL seasons.
“He’s more of a creative playmaker than a shooter,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting, of Granlund. “He has the speed and plays a smart, complete game now and uses his wingers a lot more than he did in the past.”
Potentially hurting Granlund’s draft status is a disappointing World Junior Tournament for Finland – a competition in which he was expected to dominate players his own age after his strong showing against older players earlier in the year. He still posted one goal and six assists in seven games, but scouts were left looking for more.
“His World Junior tournament was below expectations, but he was playing with a groin injury that clearly affected his skating,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ director of amateur scouting. “That being said, he was still Finland’s best player, and once he got back to his club team and got healthy he played much better.”
That trend continued at the World Under-18 Championship in April. Granlund finished third in the competition with 13 points in just six games in helping Finland claim the bronze medal.
“He had an outstanding tournament,” said MacDonald.
With three of his countrymen already on the NHL roster and three more joining the system through last year’s draft and a trade, Granlund would seemingly fit right in with the Finnish movement currently underway in Carolina. Besides coming from the same HIFK system as Tuomo Ruutu
, he also shares the hometown of Oulu with Joni Pitkanen
“We’ve been tracking him for a long time, as have other teams,” said Karmanos. “He’s been the most highly-touted prospect out of Finland in his age group for quite a while.”