ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo doesn’t doubt the NHL ability of rookie forward Mikael Granlund, but Granlund’s development — and regaining his confidence — for now will have take place with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League.
Granlund, a healthy scratch in three of the past four games, was reassigned to Houston Tuesday by the Wild. Considered the best of Minnesota’s heralded prospects entering this season, the 21-year-old forward had 16 points in 19 games for the Wild but had been dropped to the fourth line and scratched recently as Minnesota has climbed to the top of the Northwest Division.
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“He’ll get there,” Yeo said. “In fairness to him, he’s done a lot of good things when he’s been in the lineup. I know that as a coaching staff we have a great deal of confidence in him that we can put him out there. I think he’s definitely learned how to battle and compete at this level, which is something that every player has to learn. Likewise, his pace will not be a problem whatsoever in this game. It’s just a matter of continuing to develop, continuing to get confidence and learning the league. And we have no doubt that he’ll get there.”
Granlund started the year on the team’s second line and scored his first NHL goal in the season opener. After being a healthy scratch on Feb. 7, he returned to the lineup and had a four-game assist streak during which Yeo was pleased with his progress.
But Granlund has been scoreless in his past five games, and playing time has been tough to come by with Cal Clutterbuck returning from injured reserve and the team starting to find its stride.
Granlund, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 draft, was ranked last March as the No. 2 prospect in hockey by The Hockey News. The Finnish star is a hero in his home country, even being honored on a postage stamp after his lacrosse-style goal in the 2011 World Championships, where Finland won the gold medal.
Granlund made his North American debut this season, first starting at Houston during the NHL lockout. With Houston, he had 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists, in 21 games) and was named the AHL Rookie of the Month in October with three goals, seven assists and a plus-5 rating. He made the Wild’s roster out of training camp.
“Most of the great players in this league have spent some quality time in the American Hockey League,” Yeo said. “That’s one thing that’s just really important to remember, it’s just a step in his development. This is just an opportunity to go there and to, again, get some confidence, get some quality minutes and make sure that when we need him, he’s on top of his game. Obviously, it’s a story, but it shouldn’t be a real big story because, for us, this kid is just a huge part of our organization. This is just what he needs and what we need from him right now.”