It may have taken a few swings and misses before Mikael Granlund's breakout potential materialized, but he's been worth the wait for the Minnesota Wild and fantasy owners.
Granlund (C/LW/RW, 76 percent owned) has gone from being undrafted in Yahoo to being ranked 38th in its performance-based rankings. He has already equaled his career highs in points (44 in 82 games last season) and power-play points (12 in 63 games, 2013-14) in 50 games.
He had a primary assist against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, tying him for the longest point streak in the NHL this season (11 games) with Artem Anisimov of the Chicago Blackhawks. Granlund quietly ranks second League-wide in primary assists (24) behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (26). He has become a must-own player in all fantasy formats and has already lived up to his second-half sleeper potential.
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Granlund is the Wild's leading scorer over veterans Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and fellow fantasy breakouts Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker. This hasn't been any ordinary season for the Wild. Minnesota leads the Western Conference with 71 points and points percentage (.710). The Wild's depth at forward and on defense, with the elite goaltending of Devan Dubnyk, has them primed to contend for the Stanley Cup.
Video: STL@MIN: Granlund puts home his own rebound in 3rd
The 24-year-old is making the most of his minutes at even strength and on the power play in coach Bruce Boudreau's first season with the Wild. But there's been a notable position change that has led to Granlund's scoring surge; after centering Parise and Jason Pominville for the majority of last season, he has thrived after a switch to wing playing mostly with Koivu and Zucker this season.
Granlund is owned in the vast majority of fantasy leagues, but Koivu and Zucker are somehow only owned in 44 and 40 percent, respectively. Koivu has 30 points, nine PPP and is plus-25 in his past 32 games, and Zucker is tied for sixth in even-strength points (35) entering Thursday.
In terms of power-play usage, Granlund's minutes per game have actually dipped (2:07) compared to last season (2:37), but he's been with a different, more effective combination of forwards (Koivu, Niederreiter, Pominville). Parise, Staal and Coyle play on a separate unit. Pominville (RW, 6 percent owned) is even gaining fantasy consideration in deep leagues with 12 points (two PPP) in his past 13 games on the power play with Granlund and at even strength with Parise and Erik Haula.
Video: NSH@MIN: Granlund threads puck through legs and in
This fresh look and different responsibilities as a wing under Boudreau are huge reasons Granlund ranks ninth in 5-on-4 power-play points per 60 (6.87; minimum 100 minutes), according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com. His shooting percentage (11.7 percent) may be the best of his career but is sustainable being 3.6 percent higher than his past two seasons (8.1).
The plus/minus prowess of Granlund and the Wild has also been a huge fantasy development; he's plus-26 (T-6th in NHL) and one of five Minnesota players (Ryan Suter, Zucker, Jared Spurgeon, Koivu) among the League's top seven in the category.
This is the way it plays out sometimes for young players with years of experience in the NHL. A coaching change and proper usage were all Granlund needed to finally reach his full potential in his fifth NHL season. He has been on the radar of most fantasy owners in years past, yet still has taken nearly all of us by surprise.