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October 16, 2013 | 9:31am ET
Granlund's time to step up
By David Brown,

MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- Mikael Granlund made his long awaited NHL debut last season for the Minnesota Wild on opening night after the lockout ended. He scored his first career NHL goal as the Wild beat the Avalanche 4-2.

It seemed like a storybook beginning to his career with the Wild. Unfortunately for Granlund and the Wild the rest of the season didn't go as planned.

Granlund was demoted to the fourth line early in his call up, Cullen replaced him and then eventually he was demoted to Houston. He started seeing Johan Larsson, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and others get their opportunity instead of him.

At times, Granlund looked too slow and not strong enough for the NHL level. Fans started losing hope in, what was supposed to be, their future superstar. It was a wake up call to say the least for everybody involved.

Granlund only appeared in 27 games last season, scoring just one goal after his debut. He had eight points and was a minus-four. In the AHL, Granlund nearly averaged a point per game -- scoring 28 points in 29 games -- keeping his hope for another chance with the Wild.

"Last year was my first year here and I learned a lot," Granlund said. "I know more about the game now and I'm more comfortable now."

Granlund never sniffed the playoff lineup, but this season he made the opening day lineup for the second year in a row. This time it's not based on hype or expectations. Instead, he earned it with hard work.

Granlund spent his summer training a completely different way.

"I changed my training; I had a personal trainer in Finland and I feel faster and stronger now," Granlund said. "That's the main reason I feel more comfortable now."

Granlund's playmaking ability on the power play cannot be argued and it's a main reason that he made the team out of camp this year. His passing, creativity and puck handling skills make him a valuable asset to the Wild's second unit.

"That's one of my strengths to play on the power play," Granlund said. "I just try to create plays and be creative. That's why I am here."

The second unit will showcase three 21-year old forwards this season and two very young defensemen -- Granlund, Coyle, Nino Niederreite, Jonas Brodin and Matthew Dumba.

"It's a good dynamic with the three of those guys," head coach Mike Yeo said. "They're working well. You've got big bodies, guys that are good around the net, and you've got a puck distributor, who sees the ice really well and can shoot it, too, if there's a lot of room. It was fun watching them."

Granlund right now is slotted as the second line center after Coyle's injury. He started the season as third line left wing, a completely different role as last year and right now -- the second line center.

"I play both center and wing," Granlund said. "I'll play wherever they want me. I just have to be at my best."

Clearly, the Wild likes how far his game evolved over the summer, because he passed the likes of playoff star Jason Zucker and others to make the team this year.

"Last year there might have been too much hype around him," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said. "This year it might be too much the other way."

If Granlund can consistently play at the top of his game, there's a good chance he will never play in the AHL again. He has the skill, the flashes of brilliance and potential to still be a star in the league. He's only 21 years old, which tends to be forgotten.

"I'll work hard and make plays," Granlund said. "I want to do all I can for this team."

Granlund has three assists early in his second NHL season, becoming a staple for the Wild now and their future.

David Brown is the Minnesota Correspondent for The Fourth Period.

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