Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chalk Talk: The Evolution of Mikael Granlund

Last season Mikael Granlund made his much anticipated debut in a Wild sweater. His rookie season was far from what we hoped as the then 20 year old looked overwhelmed and only played 12 games in the lockout shortened season.

This year however, Granlund is an exact opposite. He entered the season on the third line after competing for the second line center position with Charlie Coyle and lost out (he was solid in the preseason but Coyle was equally as good). But an injury to Coyle moved Granlund up to the second line and he has yet to disappoint.

What has made Granlund so good early on this year is his skating, play in both ends of the rink, and vision in the offensive zone. His playmaking ability has been on display quite often, despite his lack of getting on the scoresheet during games.

To show you how good he is, lets look at some film (and in some cases screenshots of certain film) of recent games.

10/15 vs Toronto:
On this save by Reimer (eventually Granlund will start putting pucks behind the goalies) we see Granlund keeping his eye squarely on the puck, makes a nifty little move around, and then flies by Kessel who had lost the puck. He then goes in and shows Reimer a shot headed towards the shelf then tries to slip it in the five hole, but did not get enough on it to beat Reimer.

10/24 vs Carolina:

Point of possession/Decision: Granlund has his back turned but clearly has seen that the penalty kill has been stretched out to the boards leaving the front of the net wide open. Instead of making a quick pass around the boards once he takes the hit from the defender (like other players on this team usually would), he fires a no look pass out front of the net to Niederreiter who was crashing the net for a nifty power play goal.

10/26 vs Chicago:

Point of possession: Granlund takes the cross ice pass from Ryan Suter and has a nice cushion around him to drive to the net if he so chooses, but has to decide quickly because two defenders are about to crash down on him from the slot. 

Decision: Instead of driving to the net where two other defenders are parked, Granlund draws them in leaving Pominville parked out in the high slot with no around him. Granlund feeds Pominville the puck and the result is a one timer goal that Crawford has no chance of stopping.

Point of Possession: After Granlund is finally able to corral the errant pass from "the Saint" Nick Leddy, he is already in a pretty good spot to shoot from just atop the faceoff circle. But with two defenseman moving in front of him and two forwards closing in on the back check, Granlund has about a half second to make a move.

Decision: Granlund moves into the open slot area, drawing all four defenders and the goalie out to him and instead of shooting from the slot he sends a pass over to Pominville who has an easy tap in goal because Crawford had already come out to play a potential Granlund shot.

10/28 vs Chicago

Point of possession: First of all, give credit to Clayton Stoner for a great breakout pass there. But as Granlund takes that pass from Stoner, he sees that there are four defenders around him again, but as you can see there is some quality space behind the defense and Jason Pominville already up on the wing.

Decision: A pretty slick puck off the skate move gets Granlund around Duncan Keith and draws Brent Seabrook to him leaving Pominville alone on the wing. A quick pass followed by a laser from Pominville results in the third goal between the pair in two games.

As you can see, there has been a ridiculous improvement in the decision making skills of Mikael Granlund this season. Last year, he was either moving the puck too quickly or holding on to it too long. He also was not playing the body well, and that is another aspect he has significantly improved upon. 

Combine those improvements with his great playmaking ability and solid defensive zone play. He has made a significant case to remain the second line center alongside Jason Pominville once Charlie Coyle returns, which could be as early as Friday. The Granlund-Pominville line did get a lot of praise from Mike Yeo following Monday's loss, so that could also be a indicator that he might break apart the best source of offense this team has had in the past week.

At 21 years old, Mikael Granlund has already solidified himself as the second line center on a good Minnesota team. Just think of how good he will be in two to three years...

Screenshots courtesy of WGN and Fox Sports North.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell


  1. Saw this on the Wilderness Walk and just wanted to say this article is fantastic. I love the frame-by-frame breakdown. Best article on the Wild I've read this morning. Keep up the good work!