The Minnesota Wild’s prospect pool is arguably as deep as it’s ever been, but there’s no doubt the crown jewel of the future Wild is Mikael Granlund
When Chuck Fletcher announced Granlund as the Wild’s first round pick on stage at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, the number one-ranked European prospect became the face of the Wild’s future.
Since that day, Wild fans have seen highlight reel goals, a couple scrimmages at Xcel Energy Center during last July’s Development Camp. They’ve read about his exploits in Finland, where he’s a borderline folk hero already…but that’s it. The thought of Granlund skating alongside countryman Mikko Koivu
and setting up the likes of Dany Heatley
is still only a vision. Being patient can be very difficult for hockey fans.
That should change next October, but Granlund is currently focused on Calgary right now than he is on the Twin Cities. With an 8-5 win over Slovakia in which he scored once and set up three others, Finland’s captain has his team one win from a shot at a gold medal in the World Junior Championships.
“We have the chance to beat any team,” he said following the quarterfinal victory. “But we have to focus on (Sweden) and have a great game against our big rival.”
With Granlund playing, there’s a sense that Finland really could beat any team in this tournament. Sure, the Finns were trounced by Canada in the tournament’s first game, but Finland has been rolling since. And Granlund, who missed last year’s tournament due to injury, is savoring his final go round as he leads Finland with 11 points (2-9=11).
“Of course it has been special,” he said about returning to the tournament after missing last year’s. “You know this is a huge tournament. Every time you have the chance to play here, you want to play. Last time, I couldn’t play, but now I’m here again and we have the chance to do something special.”
When Granlund has the puck, there is always the potential for something special.
While most of the highlights we’ve seen have been because of some ridiculous stick work, he drew a chorus of “Oooooohhhhs!” from the Pengrowth Saddledome crowd today when he sniped a shot over the shoulder of the Slovakian netminder with a power play goal.
Shortly after, he went back to the finesse game and undressed a defenseman to get in alone on the keeper, who was able to poke the puck away. The disc went to another Granlund – his brother, Markus – who buried the shot as Finland cruised from there.
Medal or not, Granlund will head back to Finland to wrap up his season with HIFK upon the conclusion of the World Juniors. He says he’s happy he made the choice to return to the club after helping them to a League championship last year. He asserts that he’s not thinking about his move to the NHL until the season is complete, but he admits he’s keeping tabs on the Wild.
“Of course a little bit, that’s for sure,” he said with a smirk. “But not too much.”
And do thoughts mirror those of Wild fans when they picture him playing with Koivu again?
“He’s a great guy, a great player and a big leader,” he said. “Last year, when we played on the same team, it was just a great time. Hopefully I have the chance to play someday with him again.”