Disclaimer: I am a huge fan of Granlund’s and this article is not to criticise him, but rather look at how he has coped since rising to stardom in his native Finland.
Mikael Granlund, the supremely talented Finnish forward, has seen more column inches than any Finnish hockey player not playing in the NHL in recent years, or dare I say it decades. Granlund was known as a promising player and had garnered some international attention prior to his 9th overall draft pick by the Minnesota Wild.
It wasn’t until the 2011 World Championships that Mikael Granlund played himself to the knowledge of the entire hockey world and at the same time cursed himself with the amazing air-hook goal he scored against Russia in the semi-finals. I write cursed himself, only because it seems to be the only thing the Finnish media has been asking him for the past year and every time someone somewhere scores a similar goal and it goes viral, the press and in particular the tabloid press, pick up on it and say “Better airhook goal than Granlund’s.”
Yes Mikael Granlund is a super talent, and one like Finland has not had in a long while. He is a legitimate player that can bring something to the table at Minnesota right off the bat. Where he is not (yet) physically the size of some of the other players he will be playing against, he showed his fearlessness and determination in the Russia game in the World Championships when he finished hits against players such as Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuck. The only downside I can see with Granlud’s stature is that whether he will be able to take the hits in the NHL.
I’m not taking anything away from the professionals in the Finnish league, but I’m going to stick my neck out there and say that the NHL is far more physical and the hits far harder than they are in the SM-Liiga and how Granlund will cope with that remains to be seen. Let’s not forget that he has a history of concussion and missed significant amount of time last year when he mistimed a hit and crashed into the boards head first.
The latest topic of discussion around Granlund around the SM-Liiga playoffs has been whether or not he is tired. The young man has been used for PR duties and he has also played the world juniors, where he got a lot of criticism of his missed penalty shot at the crucial time. Hero one minute, villain the next. As a captain of the team, Granlund shouldered the responsibility of the loss, but it looked like it was all becoming too much for him.
Granlund has also missed a lot of time with the flu and as a result missed almost the latter part of the regular season and has only returned for the playoffs. After such a long time off with a persistent disease, Granlund has not been at his optimal level as has been pointed out by many hockey journalists in Finland.
After the playoffs eventually come to an end for HIFK, Granlund who was second in the point scoring race in the league, will likely be chosen to play for Team Finland in the World Championships. There’s nothing wrong with being chosen for the team, its just that the games are in Finland. After last years’ triumph I can expect that the media will be on the players like piranhas and every move will be scrutinised on the ice by respectable journalists and those who are only looking for stories on how drunk the players got and what Miss Finland contestant they are dating. My advice to the latter would be not to bother. You’ll do a bigger favour to the team by staying at home and let the team do what they are there to do; play hockey.
In nearly every video interview I’ve seen of Granlund of late, he is visibly agitated by the interviews as he has to answer same questions over and over again “Something something about airhook goal?” “How tired are you?” “How much fun is it to play hockey”. I can only expect that the media interest will get higher as the games get closer and Granlund is already losing some amount of sleep over it. The kid is under huge pressure, specially if he is chosen for the World Championships team. The coach Jukka Jalonen has been good on the front that he hasn’t overloaded Granlund with the (in my view) insignificant Euro Hockey Tour games.
Which actually leaves Jalonen with a tricky call. Name Granlund to the team even if he is tired and still recovering from the flu bug and not at peak condition, or leave him out and give him time to rest. If the latter, Jalonen might be crucified by the fans and if MG is not at 100% shape, will the fans and so on crucify him for playing sub par?
Granlund has always been a level headed player and is so much fun to watch on the ice. In fact, looking at pictures or videos of him on the ice, show that he is truly happy to be out there. There are no outside distractions and its just pure enjoyment for hockey. To me there are more brilliant plays than the airhook goal. Granted some of the moves/plays have not lead to a goal, but the kid is not afraid to try something new. He is super creative on the ice.
As and when he does make the move to the NHL, and if the Minnesota Wild website is anything to go by, he will be in the show next season. There will be media interest from the local press as well as that on a national scale, but Granlund, to a greater extent is an unknown in the league. Sure people have seen what he is capable of, but he is still a rookie in the league.
For some reason, I have a feeling that Granlund will actually relish the move across the pond, if for nothing else, he wouldn’t have to answer any more inane questions about the damn airhook goal.