Despite notching an assist on the Wild’s only goal of the game last night, the 20-year old Finn who was styled a Wunderkind entering this year has generally looked like he could not shoot his way out of a paper bag. Mikael Granlund has 16 shots on goal in 12 games this year, just 1.33 per game, while his CorsiOn is a capital-D Dreadful -28.60, which ranks ninth-lowest in the league among forwards with more than five games played. While he has looked better the last couple games and might finally be developing some chemistry with fellow member of the -20 corsi club, Devin Setoguchi, Granlund has just looked overmatched and overwhelmed to me this year.
Meanwhile, fellow rookie Charlie Coyle has found himself in the enviable position of skating alongside Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise beginning with just the second game of his career. Coyle has not dented the scoresheet yet and actually has less shots per game than Granlund, just 6 SOG in 5 GP (1.2 shots per game.) Coyle is one of just five Wild forwards with a positive CorsiOn this year (Koivu, Parise, Coyle, Brodziak, Clutterbuck.) Both are getting difficult minutes, with Coyle’s QoC number at a hefty 1.15 and Granlund’s at 0.80. But one thing Coyle is doing better than Granlund is drawing penalties: 3.1 drawn per 60 minutes vs 1.0 taken for Charlie, 0.4 drawn, 0.8 taken per 60 for Mikael.
Like a lot of folks, coming into this season I thought Granlund wouldn’t have much trouble adapting to the NHL game–he had played at a high level in one of the toughest European leagues for several years, and showed promise in the AHL before getting injured. Now I’m wondering what factors may be contributing to his poor start to his Minnesota career. The rinks are a different size in the SM-liiga, bigger than the NHL but smaller than Olympic size if my research is correct…but Granlund played a number of games with Houston during the lockout so that’s probably not it. I’m starting to wonder if his role as a playmaker and his lack of size and defensive skill aren’t a great match in Mike Yeo’s system. While Coyle gets to skate with All-Stars and his direction is pretty much, “hey kid, shoot the puck when they pass it to you,” Granlund is responsible for setting up guys and creating chances, and thinking three moves ahead in the NHL chess game has got to be tougher than the AHL or the liiga. Plus, Coyle has gotten his assignment and stuck with it, while Granlund has skated a few games with Cullen, a couple with Bouchard, and even one with Konopka. The constant for 64 has been Setoguchi, who has had an equally dreadful season start though he has shown signs of life lately. I don’t really want to get into a chicken v. egg argument, but Granlund and Setoguchi have been tied together for the first quarter of the season and one figures that if Yeo was going to split them up, he would have done so by now.
I feel like I’ve written a lot about line combos the last few weeks, and my reaction has been…alright yeah, I guess I like that. Sure, that could work too. At the risk of being a broken record, I do like the newest iteration of the Wild’s second line with Dany Heatley rejoining Setoguchi with Granlund as the pivot. Heatley and Gooch played together in San Jose, and again last year on the Wild’s top line. They do seem to have some good chemistry, and let’s face it, Heatley hasn’t resembled a first-liner for three years. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that his place on the team is on the second unit for a while, so we’ll see how he reacts.
I am trying to remain patient with this team, and Setoguchi in particular, but one can only watch so many games where the team goes 10-minutes at a stretch without putting a shot on goal before wondering when it’s time to give guys like Jason Zucker a shot. We may already be seeing signs of this, as Bouchard and his expiring contract were a healthy scratch last night against the Canucks…you can only roll the dice so many times before you have to get new dice.