There is no other way to put it. Mikael Granlund had one of the best seasons any player for the Wild has ever had. In fact, he tied for the fourth highest scoring season in franchise history with 69 points (26g-43a). After years of at least mildly frustrating Wild fans with flashes of brilliant play followed by periods of underperformance and a seemingly fanatical commitment to passing the puck instead of shooting, Granlund was unleashed under the guidance of Bruce Boudreau and his staff.
One moment from the season that best illustrates this was his overtime game winner against the Los Angeles Kings.
What a thing of beauty, right?
Granlund not only carries the puck up through the entire neutral zone, but he takes the puck all the way to the crease going straight down the middle, as if he were playing EA NHL17. He splits the two forwards on the ice, fights off the defenseman, and undresses the goalie with a deke before scoring. But let’s take a closer look at who those players were exactly: Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick. All four are multi-All Star players. Kopitar has won a Selke for best defensive forward in the game. Doughty has won a Norris for best defensemen in the game. Quick is a Jennings and Conn Smythe award winner (lowest goals against and MVP of the playoffs). All four were in between him and the goal when he received the puck from Jared Spurgeon, but nothing could stop him on this play.
A look at some of the underlying numbers on the season back up what the eye test has already revealed: Granlund went from scoring .54 points per game (PPG) during the 2015-16 season to scoring .85 ppg during this past season. As a result, Granlund finished with 25 more points on the season (in one fewer game no less). That alone should put the last nail in the coffin for the failed experiment of Granlund as an NHL center. His possession stats took a hit, but the Wild’s unadjusted possession metrics were not very good for much of the season.
The move away from center is still a disappointment of course. Granlund was billed as the future 1C for the Minnesota Wild, a 1C that had a playmaker’s vision and goal scorer’s hands. However, with Granlund at center in the past, the Wild had a line that was inconsistent. This season, with Granlund on the wing beside fellow Finn Mikko Koivu and speedster Jason Zucker, the Wild had simply one of the best lines in the entire league. As a unit, they had the best GF% for much of the season. They consistently found ways to not only prevent the other team from getting its way, but generated their own offense too. A shutdown line, which is how Boudreau deployed them, that can also score at a high rate was a major reason for the Wild’s early success this season.
Granlund is a restricted free agent this offseason. Signing him has to be GM Chuck Fletcher’s top priority. Given the Wild’s incredibly tight cap situation and the compelling need to also sign Nino Niederreiter will make this challenging. The wrinkle provided by the expansion draft is distracting, but may also provide the cap relief necessary to re-sign the Wild’s two most promising young forwards on the team. Offer sheets may be rare in this day and age, but the possibility of another GM testing Fletcher’s resolve under these circumstances cannot be ignored either. However the off-season plays out, look for Granlund to come back to the Wild next year ready to defend his team scoring title and make a solid push to surmount the 70 point plateau.