Team Canada's Freddie Hamilton (left) faces off against Finland's Mikael Granlund during first period IIHF World Junior Championships bronze medal hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012. Finnish star forward Granlund has signed his contract with the Minnesota Wild and will join the offensively challenged team for training camp.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Mikael Granlund's arrival in Minnesota has been eagerly awaited by frustrated Wild fans looking for more star power and offensive skill on a team stuck in mediocrity since entering the NHL 12 years ago.
If the 20-year-old forward turns out to be as good as advertised, he could wind up sharing a spotlight with the likes of Adrian Peterson, Ricky Rubio, Jared Allen, Joe Mauer and Kevin Love.
Granlund's profile here, however, will never match his fame in Finland.
"In some ways and some situations, he can be a little bit like Lennon and McCartney walking in the streets over there," Granlund's agent, Todd Diamond, said Wednesday after his client signed a three-year, $2.7 million entry-level contract with the Wild.
Diamond said Granlund has become Finland's "most-Googled" athlete, and there are no search results more fitting than the clips on YouTube of his lacrosse-style goal during the World Championships last spring.
He picked up a puck behind the net and lifted it into the air as if it were super-glued to the blade, using a sling-shot move from the side of the net to sneak it in for the score. Each version of the videos on YouTube has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
The ninth overall pick in the 2010 draft wanted to finish his schooling, his required military service and another season for Finland's national team and HIFK Helsinki in his country's top league before finalizing his first NHL contract.
After waiting for two years for him to develop further, the Wild have been anticipating his arrival this year as the headliner of a heralded group of prospects that will compete for playing time in training camp. The organization offered the first 64 people to buy season tickets an autographed Granlund jersey—his number is 64.
Granlund's roster spot, in case there were any questions, is already sewed up.
"We're projecting based on what we've seen, but certainly I think he's ready to play in the NHL and certainly the expectation is he'll play for our club next year and be able to contribute," general manager Chuck Fletcher said.
Granlund had 41 goals and 86 assists in three seasons for HIFK. He joined the team as a 17-year-old and was named his league's top rookie for the 2009-10 season after tallying 13 goals and 27 assists in 43 games against much-older players. He's 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, but being overwhelmed in the NHL shouldn't be an issue.
"I'm never going to be the biggest or the toughest guy, but I try to work hard and be smart," said Granlund, whose first name is pronounced mee-KYE-uhl.
Diamond, on a conference call with Fletcher and Granlund for Minnesota reporters, praised Granlund's ability to blend in with his elders.
"They respect him so much because of his approach and because of his skill level," Diamond said.
The Wild need a lot of that. They were last in the NHL in goals per game last season with an average of 2.02.
Asked whether Granlund could play on a line with friend and fellow Finn Mikko Koivu, Fletcher said that was too soon to determine.
"Over the course of his career I'm sure he'll play centre and right wing and left wing and on the power play and on the penalty kill. As to where he starts? Who knows?" Fletcher said.
With forwards Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Brett Bulmer, Johan Larsson and Zack Phillips also turning pro this year, the Wild have a lot more to work with for this season's team. They won't all make the roster right away, but the lack of depth exposed during the injury-filled 2011-12 season should begin to shore up.
"Whether it's October or the spring or maybe the following year, at some point we're going to have a lot of talent infused in our lineup," Fletcher said.
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