ST. PAUL, Minn. — Zach Parise and Ryan Suter weren’t the only players making their Minnesota Wild debuts Saturday night.
Mikael Granlund, the Finnish sensation who is one of the top prospects in hockey, played his first-ever NHL game and scored his first goal. Granlund, Minnesota’s first-round pick in the 2009 draft, is in his first pro season in North America and he had 21 points in 21 games for the Houston Aeros while waiting for the NHL lockout to be resolved.
He didn’t take long making impact on the NHL level.
Granlund tipped home a shot from Jared Spurgeon in the second period for his first goal with the Wild as part of a three-goal period, which set the tone for Saturday’s 4-2 win in the season-opener. Granlund became just the second player in Minnesota history to score his first goal in the first game of the season.
“I just got a little lucky,” Granlund said of the goal. “I just tipped the puck and it went in. That’s a good thing. . . . I just tried to play how I can play. It was great feeling to play the whole game. It was great and I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Granlund was a phenom in his native Finland, helping the country win the 2011 World Championships and he was memorialized on a stamp after his lacrosse-style goal, in which he scooped the puck with his stick while behind the net and flipped it behind the goaltender for a score in a World Championships semifinal game.
Several members of the Finnish media were in town to highlight Granlund’s debut alongside fellow countrymen Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom.
“I think obviously the goal was huge,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I thought his faceoffs were really good. One of my favorite parts of the game was when he blocked that shot. There’s a kid stepping in and saying, ‘You know what guys? I want to be a part of this and I’ll pay a price for you guys.’ So, I had absolutely zero problems with him defensively. I thought he was very good. I thought he managed the puck very well and he’s a threat every time he’s on the ice.”
Heatley meshes with his new linemates: Dany Heatley led Minnesota in shots, goals and points last season while playing in all 82 games in his first season with the Wild. But the team around him changed constantly and he finished with the lowest goal total (24) of any full-season he’s played in the NHL.
Paired now with Koivu and Parise, Heatley is primed for a big comeback season. Heatley and Yeo have talked about how the forward worked hard to be in good shape during the lockout and Heatley scored two power-play goals Saturday to lead the Wild. He now has 351 goals in his career. Heatley has the most power play goals in the NHL (131) since his debut in 2002.
“We had two guys that (played 82 games) last year and especially in that second half, it was tough,” Yeo said of Heatley. “There was a lot of heat on him. He played most of the year without Mikko. And so you put Mikko with him, and Heater’s a great player, and he’s an even better player with Mikko. And you add a guy like Zach and that just compounds.”
Bouchard returns: Forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard returned to Minnesota’s lineup for the first time since Jan. 4, 2012 and scored his 99th career goal. It was a big return for Bouchard, who has dealt with concussion issues the past two seasons. Bouchard has been healthy and played well in training camp after saying last week that he was finally free of concussion symptoms for the first time last month.
Konopka makes his impact: Before the Wild signed Parise and Suter last year, they made a move to sign forward Zenon Konopka, an enforcer who is also strong in the faceoff circle. Konopka also had a memorable debut.
He fought Colorado’s Cody McLeod early in the first period, and later had his nose broken after being hit with an errant stick. He finished with seven penalty minutes and 5:19 of ice time. He won three of his five faceoffs.
A successful Hockey Day Minnesota 2013: Minnesota announced an attendance of 19,298, the sixth-highest Xcel Center crowd in Wild history. Making the total even more notable was a decrease in seating this season from 18,064 to 17,954 due to a new lounge created in the arena.
The Wild improved to 5-1-1 all-time on Hockey Day Minnesota. Minnesota was the fourth game of five broadcasts Saturday as part of the seventh-annual day-long tribute to the sport in the state. The day began with boys high school hockey games played outdoors on Lake Pokegama in Grand Rapids, followed with the University of Minnesota facing North Dakota and then the Wild. The day wrapped up with a tape-delayed girls hockey game back out on the lake in Grand Rapids.
Streak intact: The Wild have never lost a home opener played at the Xcel Energy Center. Saturday’s 4-2 win ran Minnesota’s record to 11-0-1 in season openers at the arena, including 11 straight.