ST. PAUL, Minn. — On Sunday, Mikael Granlund traded his white Houston Aeros jersey for a suit and tie. Instead of hockey skates, the 20-year-old Finland native donned a pair of brown dress shoes.
This isn’t exactly how Granlund had hoped to look as his Aeros team hosted the Rockford IceHogs at the Xcel Engery Center, where Granlund could possibly soon call home as a member of the Minnesota Wild. For now, though, Granlund is forced to watch as an ankle injury suffered earlier this month has sidelined the Wild’s top prospect.
Granlund was taken by Minnesota with the ninth overall pick in the first round of the 2010 NHL draft. After the Wild drafted the talented forward, Granlund played two more seasons in his native Finland before finally coming over to the United States.
There was just one problem, though: the NHL lockout. The league is still locked out as owners and players continue to argue over how to share the league’s revenue. That has left players like Granlund to spent time in the American Hockey League to hone their skills while waiting for the NHL to resume.
“Sure, everybody would like to have the NHL to start, but this is how things are now,” Granlund said after Sunday’s game at Xcel Energy Center. “Now I’m playing here in the AHL, and I’m just trying to do all I can here and play as good as I can to help my team. That’s all I can think about. I don’t really want to think too much about the lockout.”
Before spraining his ankle in a game against Oklahoma City, Granlund was making a splash early on in his AHL career. He was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for October after scoring three goals and adding seven assists in his first seven games. Even though Granlund has been sidelined — he’s expected to miss two to four weeks — he was still tied with the most points on the Aeros heading into Sunday’s game.
“He’s a highly competitive kid,” Aeros coach John Torchetti said of Granlund. “He just wants to be good at everything he does. He plays well defensively. He competes very hard. A lot of people will be surprised at his size, but he’s got a high competitive level.”
Indeed, Granlund’s size is the one thing skeptics may point at. He’s listed at just 5-foot-10, 180 pounds.
“I’m not the biggest or fastest guy on the ice, but I just need to be smarter than everyone else,” he said. “That’s how I play and that’s what I need to execute.”
As Granlund is adjusting to life in a new league, he’s also getting used to life in a new country. If the NHL weren’t locked out, there’s a good chance Granlund would have been living in Minnesota, which shares a climate similar to his native Finland.
Instead, he’s living and playing hockey in Texas.
“In Houston, it’s a lot different weather from Finland,” he said. “It’s warm and the sun is shining.”
No matter where Granlund plays, though, be it Helsinki, Finland, or Houston, Texas, the game of hockey is the same. And wherever he’s played throughout his career, Granlund has found success. He showed that already in just eight games with the Aeros. He scored 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) in 45 games last year with HIFK Helsinki.
Granlund — and Minnesota Wild fans — are hoping those skills will translate to yet another league: the NHL. That is, when the ongoing lockout ends and the puck finally drops.
“Sure, I read some news on what’s happening,” Granlund said of the lockout. “I don’t know anything about conversations or anything like that. It’s better for me to ignore that and just focus on working out and playing. That’s all I can do right now.”