Prospect Report: Mikael Granlund

Prospect Report is a weekly series that will look at a Wild prospect every Wednesday. If there is any prospect you would like featured, e-mail me at blake.benzel@hockeyprimetime.com.

Mikael Granlund

Mikael Granlund

Born – 2/26/1992
Position –
C
Ht –
5’10”
Wt –
179
Shoots –
Left

The Skinny
Not much can be said about Granlund that hasn’t already been said. At this point in his career, he carries a heavy burden as the most anticipated Wild prospect – maybe ever.

It already seems like Granlund is fitting right into the role, with a good head on his shoulders (he’s heading back to Finland for one more season to take care of his obligations there before he makes the leap to the pros) and the fact that he’s handling his super

Get used to this image.

stardom in his home country quite well (he has his own stamp, for crying out loud).

A naturally talented, supremely skilled player, Granlund makes up for his lack of size with his uncanny ability to find the openings on

the ice and find the open men.

Granlund is also very adept at winning one-on-one battles – especially for his size – and his compete level (a buzzword, I know) isextremely high.

This Season
Like I said, Granlund will be back in Finland this season, playing for HIFK in the SM-Liga.

Injuries hampered Granlund last season, but he still managed 36 points in 39 games and will look to improve upon that this season.

Once again, he’ll be the go-to guy for HIFK, so his development will be in his own hands.

Potential
Hockey’s Future has Granlund listed as a first-line forward who may reach his potential and also has him as one of the top-ten prospects in the NHL while The Hockey News lists his career potential as a versatile scoring forward.

His creativity and offensive flair more than offset any size disadvantage he may have, but that size is a growing concern, coupled with the fact that he has struggled with concussions now after last season.

A clean bill of health, though, gives he and the Wild’s fans a lot to look forward to in the 2012-13 season.

The Monday Mailbag: 8/8/11

Before we get into mailbag time, it’s time for a few more links from around the interwebs.

HPT Bold Prediction #21: Playoffs on the Island
HPT Bold Prediction #22: Barry Trotz will be fired
Hockey’s Future: Minnesota High School 2011 draft review

That’s all for now, so let’s get 8o your questions!

* * * * *

Blake,

Do you see any of the Wild’s top prospects making the squad this season?

Stan
Grand Forks

Not this year Wild fans

Well, I’m assuming by top prospects you mean players like Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle and, if that’s the case, I don’t think so.

Obviously players like Casey Wellman, Cody Almond and Colton Gillies will be vying for a spot at forward and Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella at defense, but if you’re talking about the team’s top prospects, well, here’s what I think:

1) Mikael Granlund – He’s already said the plan was for him to spend one more year in Finland to take care of his obligations.

2) Charlie Coyle – Probably not. Chuck Fletcher said that he’s planning on keeping him in college. That being said, anything can happen in camp and Coyle probably has the best shot to make the roster of any of the team’s top prospects.

3) Matthew Hackett – Not unless Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom get injured.

4) Jonas Brodin – He needs a lot more seasoning and there are a lot of defensemen that are more polished ahead of him, so no.

5) Zack Phillips – He could be the dark horse of the group. He can put up points and has the potential to surprise in camp.

So, Stan, there you have it. Those are the five prospects I would consider at the top of the list of our “big guns” that we’ve gotten in the past few drafts, but I don’t seen any of them cracking the roster yet. Some need more seasoning, some have players in front of them on the depth chart, but all are at least one year (if not more) out.

* * * * *

Blake,

Do you think that the Wild will keep Josh Harding around past this season?

Jocelyn
Mankato

Jocelyn, I think this is a terrific question that the organization is probably thinking about right now (and, if they’re not, they should be).

With the exception of a rough spot a few seasons ago, all Harding has done is won games for the Wild. He’s a terrific goaltender

The Wild would do well to keep Harding around past this year

that I think could be in the cards for Minnesota.

The problem is that he’s had injury problems (not that he’s injury prone, he just has gotten hurt in a number of different fashions) and has never really been given the helm for any extended period of time.

The Wild signed Harding to a one-year deal and, to me; this looks like it’s a tryout for Harding, so to speak.

I would imagine that the Wild will probably try to get Harding somewhere between 25-30 starts this season and, if Harding is successful, will likely try to lock up their talented back up for at least three seasons following this season.

Now, here’s my thinking on this. Backstrom has one year left on his deal after this year. He has a no-trade clause (or, at least, a modified one) and a pretty large contract, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be moved unless the team absolutely bombs (and even then it’s highly unlikely).

Say Harding has a good season this year. The team’s third-string goalie is Matthew Hackett, who is still very young and still developing. I think that, after this season, the Wild could get Harding locked up for three years at a reasonable price with the promise that he’ll be the team’s starter after Backstrom’s contract is up.

After Backstrom’s contract expires, Harding slots into the starter role and Hackett into the back up role.

We’ll see how Harding does this season, but that’s how I could see this playing out.

* * * * *

I’ve got a couple kids that want to play with daddy before bed time, so that’s all for today, but keep sending in your questions and we’ll be back with more tomorrow!

Wild acquire Powe; Qualify seven

The Minnesota Wild has acquired Darroll Powe from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a 2013 3rd Round Pick.

I love this move for Minnesota for a number of reasons, most important of which is that they’re receiving a player that will have the opportunity to contribute next season without giving up a roster player.

But I also love Powe’s game. He led the Flyers last year with 196 hits and the expectation is that he’ll slot in on the other wing on the third line with Cal Clutterbuck. Can you say scary?

All indications is that Powe brings the same type of game that Clutterbuck brings, just without the offensive upside. He’s a reliable penalty killer (he was second on the Flyers among forwards with 257 shorthanded minutes) and he’s a strong, character player – something that the Wild minced no words about wanting to acquire.

With the acquisition of Devin Setoguchi, the Wild’s top-six is more or less set, but the Wild now have a strong contingent of players jockeying for position on the team’s third and fourth lines. Powe, Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz will likely all get some good looks in the team’s bottom-six, while you’ve also got James Sheppard, Casey Wellman, Colton Gillies and Cody Almond competing for spots as well.

To me, when you look at the players that will likely make the roster (the first five I mentioned), I think it makes the most sense for the roster spots to go to Gillies and Almond. (Keep in mind that this is before camp, so obviously this could change.)

Gillies and Almond both play a game that suits playing on the third and fourth lines. To be honest, I think either player could flourish being slotted between Powe and Clutterbuck, while I think Gillies could really find himself in a great position to have a strong rookie season playing on the wing with Cullen and Clutterbuck.

Initially, that would leave Sheppard and Wellman as the odd men out.

For Sheppard, I think that it’s very clear that he needs to play at least one full season in Houston. Sheppard is a player that should not be a bottom-six forward. He has top-six skill that just hasn’t been realized, and I think that the best thing for him will be what the Wild did with Gillies – stick him in the AHL and let him develop both his game and confidence in his game.

For Wellman, it’s clear that the best position for him is going to be on one of the top two lines for Minnesota. He’s not a checker. He’s a finesse player with a tremendous amount of skill. Because of the chemistry that Kyle Brodziak has shown with both Guillaume Latendresse and Martin Havlat, to me that means that Wellman is going to have to wait one more year to get his shot, and that’s not a bad thing. A full year in Houston will also do Wellman wonders, especially if Houston can build off of their success this season.

Next season, the Wild will likely have an influx of very highly skilled, young players vying for roster spots. Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund will both be jockeying for spots on the roster. Add Wellman to that mix and you could potentially have a deadly stable of youngsters ready to contribute, and that’s never a bad thing.

* * * * *

The Wild also made their qualifying offers today. They qualified seven players, which were Powe, Gillies, Sheppard, Wellman, Justin Falk, Jarod Palmer and Jeff Penner. They did not qualify Patrick O’Sullivan.

The seven aforementioned players will all become restricted free agents as of July 1 if they are not signed before then, though I would imagine that the lot of them will be.

As far as O’Sullivan is concerned, from what people are making it sound like, the Wild will try to re-sign him to a two-way contract should he not sign with any NHL squad or in Europe.

In other RFA news, the Montreal Canadiens did not qualify Benoit Pouliot, which is making the Latendresse trade look better and better by the day.

* * * * *

Speaking of free agency, I’ll be hosting our annual UFA day chat here and at Hockey Primetime and I’m currently working on getting some solid guests lined up to help field your questions. We’re still unconfirmed as to whether or not there will be a radio show, but I’ll keep you updated as I hear.

Catching Up – Trade Deadline, Blackhawks, Isles, Gillies and Rangers

Sorry about the lack of blogs over the last few days, but it’s been super crazy in Casa de Benzel. Anywho, a lot has gone on over the past few days for the Wild, so here’s three blogs shoved together into one gigantic mish mash of ideas bouncing around in my head.

The Trade Deadline
This has been beaten to death already, so I’m not going to dwell on it too long, but here’s my take on the Wild’s deadline.

First, was I disappointed that the team didn’t make a move for someone like Weiss or Penner? Yeah. I’m not going to lie, I was very disappointed.

BUT

I can totally understand why no move was made.

The asking prices at the deadline are starting to border on ridiculous. I mean, seriously. Is Dustin Penner really worth a top prospect and two picks? We’re talking about a guy who has scored more than 50 points once in his career.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

I’d rather see the Wild roll with what they’ve got than mortgage the farm to get a mediocre player (which is exactly what the Kings did).

If the Wild had a wealth of prospects in their system, maybe – but the fact remains that they don’t.

That’s the key to becoming a team that’s consistently good like the Red Wings. You build from within. Is it frustrating this season? Absolutely. We were one terrific scorer away from being a huge force.

But look at next season. You want offense? We’ve got Mikael Granlund coming in next season, not to mention Mikko Lehtonen, who has already expressed interest in coming over to play.

We’re starting to build from within, which is exactly why doing nothing of note at the trade deadline was a smart move from an organizational stand point. Besides, every single person that was complaining about the Wild doing nothing – I guarantee that each one of those people would be complaining if the Wild overpaid for a player like Penner also.

Blackhawks @ Wild
There’s not really much to say about this game that hasn’t already been said.

There was the obvious letdown from the Wild not doing anything at the deadline, but that doesn’t excuse the Wild’s lack of effort. They were just flat, flat, flat until Martin Havlat broke through in the third.

And then their power play came out and shot them in the foot (something that has been a growing trend in the past few weeks).

Looking at the game, the Wild were outmatched from the get-go, especially in their own zone. The ‘Hawks are a team that the Wild have a hard time hanging with when Minnesota is on but, when they’re not, it’s downright brutal.

The worst part was their last power play. You had the idea that something was going to go wrong as soon as the Wild drew that penalty. Their PP had been brutal all night long and their final PP was no different. They actually had some good looks on their final power play, but a brain fart by Pierre-Marc Bouchard that saw him sprawl out to try to keep the puck in the zone saw this one lead to the back breaking goal.

They just lacked jump in this one and, in a game where they were severely out-skilled, they needed that jump to have a shot.

Wild @ Islanders
This one was just abso-freaking-lutely brutal.

I mean, from top to bottom brutal.

No effort, no cohesion, no goaltending – nothing. There’s not much to say other than that.

Backstrom was awful, so was Brodziak and most of the Wild’s defense. But that’s not what’s being talked about. What’s being talked about is…

Trevor Gillies Hit
The game back after a nine-game suspension and Trevor Gillies goes out and does this.

You’ve all seen the hit by now, so I won’t belabor the point by embedding it, but I’m having a hard time with this simply because I find myself in agreement with Mike Milbury.

Trevor Gillies has absolutely no place being in this league. The guy is a glorified door man. How many times has he played more than six minutes this season?

Twice.

How many times has he played less than two?

15, including one game where he played nine seconds. Nine.

You can’t tell me this guy is on the team for any other reason than to hurt people, and that is absolutely despicable.

You can debate the two hits all you want. Sure, Clutterbuck’s hit was an illegal hit, but it wasn’t a suspendable hit, or even a hit that deserved a major. Gillies, on the other hand, came in elbow up and sandwiched Clutterbuck’s head between his elbow and the glass.

Should Clutterbuck have pulled up and maybe not finished his check for once? Probably. But that certainly doesn’t excuse what Gillies did. Especially not in the case of a guy who had just missed nine games for head hunting.

Yes, Clutterbuck runs around. Yes, some of his hits might even border on being a touch late. But the difference is that Clutterbuck has respect for the people that he’s hitting. Rarely will you see him lay a dirty hit on a player like he did in this instance, and even rarer will you see a player not get up because of one of his hits. He might be a nuisance to other teams, he might run around and yap, his hits might be a bit late occasionally, but he does not hit dirty, contrary to what many may think. He just hits hard.

There is absolutely no defense or excuse for what Gillies did. The guy is 6’3”, 227 and he is leaving his feet to check a guy that’s 5’11”, 213. Gillies has four inches and 16 pounds on Clutterbuck. He doesn’t need to leave his feet to lay a good, solid check on him. Yet he did. He left his feet, he raised his elbows and he targeted Clutterbuck’s head. Don’t give me any of this “no intent to injure” business. That’s about as large of an intent to injure as you can get.

Now, if he weren’t just coming off of a nine-game suspenson for doing the exact same thing, I’d say he should get maybe two or three games. But his nine-game suspension obviously didn’t take the first time around.

Maybe a 15-game suspension will.

Wild @ Rangers
Now that I’m off my soap box, here’s some quick thoughts on last night’s game against the Rags.

I only caught the first period live, the rest I had to catch on DVR, and I won’t lie; I was considering skipping the rest of the game after catching the first.

They looked awful. And by awful, I mean just as bad as they did against the Isles. They couldn’t get anything going, their legs weren’t there, they had no jump in our steps. They just looked plain bad.

But something happened between the first and second periods. Something must have been said by someone, whether it was one of the team’s elder statesmen or the coaching staff, I don’t know. But someone said something that lit a fire under the team.

Sure, they got outshot 17 to 8 and 16 to 8 in the second and third periods respectively, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The effort was there again. They were driving to the net, they were getting to the hard areas on the ice and they were creating chances and, once again, they proved you don’t need to take 40 shots to score three goals.

Heck, they didn’t even need 20.

The line of Brodziak, Havlat and Bouchard had a nice game and rebounded well from their stinker of a performance on Wednesday. The line combined for two goals and five points and, to be honest, I think we have our top line right there. Sure, Brodziak isn’t a top flight center, but he’s the type of center that I think players like Bouchard and Havlat need. Neither Butch nor Havlat are the most physical players on the planet, so they need a grinder on their line to help do the dirty work and that’s exactly what Brodziak excels at. (Incidentally, with this team playing so well, I’d almost say move Mittens off of the Koivu line when G-Lat comes back – give Bruno and Koivu a guy who can actually bury the puck on their line.)

Casey Wellman was great. He was exactly what the Wild needed. His speed created a lot of chances and he was in the right place at the right time for his beautiful goal to make it 2-1. He played just nine minutes, but he made an impact in those nine minutes.

Brent Burns and Nick Schultz were great on the blue line, as was Clayton Stoner. I continue to be impressed by the way the defense has turned around this season after their horrid performance last season. Sure, the Rangers got 40 shots, but the defense did a great job of clearing the shooting lanes so that Theodore could see the puck and clearing away any rebounds.

Speaking of Theodore, he really stole this game. It could have easily been 5-3 or 6-3 in a hurry, but because of Theo the Wild snuck out of that first period with just one goal against and regrouped in a big way. I love Backstrom, but I’d have a hard time going away from Theo after this one. If I’m Richards (and there’s likely a very good reason why I’m not him or in his position), I’d start Theo on Sunday against the Sabres. He’s the hot hand and, if nothing else, it could give Backs some motivation to go out and improve in his next outing.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. Because of the Sunday game, likely no game preview but I should have a gamer up.

Laterz!

Wild Draft Recap; Part Five of Season Review Soon to Come

It’s officially three days before the free agency period starts. The draft is over, the die has been cast on the players that the Minnesota Wild selected and it’s now a waiting game to see how they progress.

But what do they look like initially?

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Round 1, Pick 9 – Mikael Granlund, C, HIFK FinlandI already mentioned what I think about this pick, but let’s just say this—it’s a tremendous pick for a team that is rebuilding, but not rebuilding.

Granlund is a smooth skating, fast player with incredible vision who also plays a lot bigger than his 5’10”, 180-pound frame.

He gets to the puck, he gets to the net and he gets points.

The bottom line is that this kid is going to help the Wild in a big, big way, possibly as soon as next season.

Round 2, Pick 39 – Brett Bulmer, RW, Kelowna RocketsThe Wild went a little off the board with this pick. Bulmer was one of the fastest rising players in terms of his CSS Rankings, skyrocketing himself up to number 65 in the Final Rankings from number 164 in the Midterm Rankings.

He’s a project, to be sure, but he also exhibited a lot of promise in the second half of his season this year.

He proved to be a very quick learner this season in the WHL and plays a pro-style game, even if he is still lacking a bit in the development area. As Kelowna coach Ryan Huska told NHL.com, “He doesn’t say a lot. When we talk to him, it’s yes or no, and then he applies what we tell him.”

While much has yet to be discovered about Bulmer, one thing is for sure. For a project pick, that sort of mentality bodes very, very well.

Round 2, Pick 56 – Johan Larsson, LW, Brynas Jr.Larson was considered the best player in the world at the Under-18 World Championships this year, leading Sweden to a silver medal.

He has great hockey sense and had a decent season with Brynas this last year.

He scored 34 points in 40 games and he plays with a bit of an edge, tallying 80 penalty minutes in that time. Larsson was ranked 34 in European Skaters by the CSS and has plenty of upside that the Wild can look forward to.

Round 2, Pick 59 – Jason Zucker, LW, US U-18 NTDPZucker could easily be considered to be the player that the Wild drafted in the second round with the most upside to him. In fact, the Wild coveted Zucker so much that they traded their third and fourth round picks to the Florida Panthers just so they could select the young winger from Las Vegas.

Zucker has become known as a big game player and has the potential to become a big time goal scorer. He, along with goaltender Jack Campbell, is also one of two players to have won three gold medals in the last year.

In other words, this kid knows how to win.

In addition to his winning experience, Zucker also led the U.S. Developmental Team in goal scoring, with 29 goals.

He’s fast, he’s gritty, he’s competitive and he’s got himself a nasty streak that could translate well to the NHL.

Round 6, Pick 159 – Johan Gustafsson, G, Farjstad Jr. – Many people thought it surprising that Johan Gustafsson fell as far as he did. Former Wild assistant General Manager Tommy Thompson actually had the young Swede rated 44th overall in his rankings.

Gustafsson was a large reason why the Swedish Under 18 team made it to the finals in the U-18 World championships and he is a big, athletic goalie and, more importantly a young player with a great attitude.

It will likely be a few years before Gustafsson is ready to sniff the bigs, but he gives the Wild a fantastic goalie prospect in their organization.

Round 7, Pick 189 – Dylen McKinlay, RW, Chilliwack Bruins – With their last pick of the draft the Wild selected McKinlay, a winger who had a solid second season with the Chilliwack Bruins, totaling 20 goals and 42 points in 72 games with the Bruins.

Overall the Wild had a fantastic draft, in my opinion.

They recognized the need for forwards in their system and used the first two rounds to pick up four forwards that could legitimately make a huge impact on the team down the road.

Fletcher utilized the assets that he had, not to make a splash but to make trades and picks that will have a lasting effect on this franchise. Though I would have liked to see the Wild land a number two center that could help the team immediately, as I’m sure many Wild fans would agree, the trades and draft picks were both extremely shrewd and addressed immediate needs in the organization.

While this draft may not make an immediate impact on the squad, I firmly believe that Wild pundits and fans alike will look back at this draft five or six years down the road and point to this as the start of an organization that is filled with skill and character players from top to bottom.

Overall Grade: A

Wild Grab Granlund; Struggle to Make Trades

Well, the Wild went into the first round of the draft with one simple mandate; take the best player available.

With both Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley still available when the Wild came up to pick at their number nine pick, there was a lot of discussion at the draft table.

Now, I wasn’t sitting anywhere near the draft table, but I imagine that the conversation had something to do with whether to take the “best player available” or whether to draft to the team’s needs.

Fortunately, the Wild’s front office blinked and a less than enthusiastic Chuck Fletcher announced that the Minnesota Wild selected forward Mikael Granlund from HIFK Helsinki.

Granlund, a 5’10”, 180 pound center averaged nearly a point-per-game in his rookie season for HIFK, playing as a 17-year old in a league of men.

He is an exceptional playmaker and a player with terrific hockey sense—a player that should thrive under Richards’ up tempo, aggressive system. In fact, Granlund has been called the most imaginative playmaker in the draft.

Needless to say, I like this pick.

The Wild has a lot of depth in their system at defense. Between young up-and-comers in Tyler Cuma and Marco Scandella, more established AHL players in Justin Falk and Maxim Noreau and players who have sniffed the roster in Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner.

What they don’t have a lot of are forwards.

Cody Almond and Casey Wellman are the only two players that are even close to being ready to compete in the NHL and the Wild need depth at forward—more notably at center.

With Granlund, the Wild have found a player that could actually be NHL-ready this season were it not for his existing contact with HIFK—a player that they hope will turn into another Mikko Koivu-type find from Finland.

Time will tell whether or not Granlund is that player but, for now, Wild fans can take solace in the fact that the team got a player that is very, very highly thought of.

On the other hand, things didn’t all come up roses for the Wild.

The team got their guy, to be sure, but Fletcher seemed much less than excited to take Granlund at the number nine spot.

It was quite obvious that Fletcher was listening to offers to move down and take their man later and try to get a couple more picks out of the deal, but it didn’t work out.

After that didn’t work out, Fletcher considered moving back into the first round in a round that saw teams moving up, down and all around with different picks.

So, what does this point to?

Well, first of all, that the Wild have absolutely zero assets that they’re willing to part with that are worth a first round pick.  Second, that even the ones that they have that have value don’t have the value that they once did.

So, where does that leave the Wild?

Well, this isn’t going to be a situation where they get better by leaps and bounds.

It’s going to be baby steps.

They’re going to improve through shrewd drafting and shrewd signings and, every once in a while, a shrewd trade. Until the stock of their players begins to go up again, however, it’s just going to be a matter playing the waiting game.