ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In the span of just over a year, Minnesota Wild forward Mikael Granlund has gone from hyped rookie, to disappointment, to pleasant surprise, to on-ice leader.
Granlund scored the game-winning goal 5:08 into overtime Monday in Game 3 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche. His goal breathed new life into the Wild, who trail the best-of-7 series 2-1.
Game 4 is Thursday at Xcel Energy Center (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN2, RDS2, ALT, FS-N, FS-WI).
The goal was another headline in a year of them for Granlund, Minnesota's first-round pick (No. 9) in the 2010 NHL Draft.
He came to the United States from Finland in the summer of 2012 with great expectation and fanfare, but was largely a disappointment in his first season with Minnesota. He was shuttled between the Wild and the American Hockey League and was bothered by injuries all season.
Even with such a small sample size, it got to the point in Minnesota where some fans were ready to give up on him.
But after a year to adjust to the size of the ice sheet and another year with his teammates, the 22-year old put together a stellar sophomore season, finishing third on the Wild with 33 assists despite missing 19 games because of injury. He scored eight goals after scoring two in 27 games last season.
He returned to Minnesota brimming with confidence after helping Finland to a bronze medal in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said Tuesday even he didn't think it would be possible to see such a quick improvement by Granlund.
"No, to be honest, no," Yeo said. "We talked at the end of the year [last season] about young kids with skill and how you have to be careful not to rush to judgment too quickly. Obviously, last year was a trying year for him, but you look at the lockout, the fact he's a rookie, the fact he's trying to change his game, there was a lot of things involved."
Monday, Granlund showed a willingness to go hard to the net, a skill and a level of desire he hadn't shown much of, even this season. At 5-10 and 186 pounds, Granlund will never be confused with a power forward. But his quickness and creativity give him options when he plays as hard as he did Monday, and he was rewarded with the overtime winner, his first Stanley Cup Playoff goal.
"He took it to a new level [Monday]," Yeo said. "The goal he scored was an amazing play. But his all-around game was very much like he's played all year."