Mikael Granlund, C HIFK Helsinki (Finland SM-Liiga)
Born: February 26, 1992 in Oulu, Finland
Scouting report: The player who has perhaps the best hockey sense of anyone in the class may be small and lack jump, but he produced a lot of offense at 17...against men.
Strengths: Elite hockey IQ; vision, smarts, anticipation and ability to read the unfolding play are all as good as they come. Makes everyone on the ice around him better with his shiftiness and ability to quickly find seams in a defense and exploit them. Agile and elusive; compensates for lack of speed with his ability to make would-be checkers miss and anticipate the open-ice hit. Very soft hands and a deft puckhandler who can maintain control of the biscuit even in tight spaces/areas of heavy traffic. Underrated heavy shot with a lightning release and ability to go top-shelf from just about anywhere inside the circles or just outside. High compete level; doesn't make a big showing of it, but goes out, hustles and makes plays at both ends of the ice. Will take the hit to make the play. Plays the game with intensity, but is clean and respectful of his opponents- won the SM-Liiga award for "most gentlemanly play." in addition to taking top rookie honors with 40 points in 43 regular season games. Highly coachable and mature beyond his years; played with the look and poise of a seasoned veteran. Mentally tough; raised his game at the World Under-18 tourney and made a significant statement to every scout there who may have had their doubts based on the World Jr. (under-20) performance a few months earlier (while coming off a groin injury).
Weaknesses: Listed at 5-10 and is probably an inch or two shorter. Does not have an explosive burst or top-end speed; takes a bigger hit than he should because of the size issue. Needs to get stronger on his skates and the puck before he'll be ready for the physical challenge of North American hockey.
Style compares to: Adam Oates (trying to avoid the oft-used Saku Koivu comparison here- his character and intensity compare favorably to Koivu, but the former Montreal captain was an explosive skater. Other than being Finnish and undersized with a nonstop motor, I see Granlund's potential as a playmaker right up there with the former Bruin who was never drafted because of similar size/mediocre skating concerns)
Draft prediction: Seventh overall to Carolina. Granlund looks like a real good fit here to me. The Hurricanes would love a high-end playmaker who can also put the puck in the net, and that describes Granlund to a tee. Plus, he's pretty refined as it is, with a year-and-a-half already of AHL-comparable experience, meaning he's more advanced than just about all of his peers, who are playing amateur hockey against fellow teens as opposed to not only competing but excelling against experienced and skilled men many of whom are much bigger and stronger than Granlund is. The size and lack of speed are why he isn't a likely top-five selection, but he shouldn't fall too far given his potential and legitimate performance in his country's top level of competition. The Hurricanes could opt for Alexander Burmistrov, Nino Niederreiter, Jeff Skinner and possibly even the rising Ryan Johansen here if Granlund isn't the guy.
Projection: First- or second-line center and power play catalyst. This guy can generate offense in his sleep, and I think he's one of those players who is so good in the things you can't quantify that in time, he'll develop into a premium talent at the NHL level. There are always those players out there who defy the odds by being Hall of Fame-worthy performers without HOF skills. Oates is one of those, as is current Bruin forward Mark Recchi. Granlund isn't ready for HOF talk, but the dismissal in some circles because of the size and skating without putting it into the context of what was an amazing season by a kid who didn't even turn 18 until Finland's regular season was all but in the books takes the debate too far in the other direction. I think this guy is a player-- his uber hockey sense and desire are going to more than compensate for the shortcomings, and he's going to be quite good.
Background: Started skating at age 2 and was playing organized hockey at five.Played the 08-09 season for his hometown Kärpät-Oulu junior and SM-Liiga team , but had a contract dispute over compensation and ended up declaring himself a free agent and signing with HIFK, suing his former club. The two sides reached an out of court settlement, and his parents moved the family to Helsinki to help facilitate his transfer to HIFK. As a first year pro (he played two scoreless games with Kärpät's SM-Liiga team the year before), he won league rookie of the year and most gentlemanly player honors in the 09-10 season with 13 goals and 40 points in 43 games. Younger brother, Markus, played with Mikael on the 2010 Finland under-18 team that captured the bronze medal in Belarus last April. Won bronze in 2009 while skating on a line with Edmonton prospect Toni Rajala and fellow '10 candidate Teemu Pulkkinen-- led all scorers with 11 assists in six games (13 points). He led the way in assists in 2010 with nine in six games, giving him 13 points again. Lists his favorite NHL team growing up as the Montreal Canadiens and favorite NHL player is Sidney Crosby.
"Smartest and most creative player in the draft. His puck sense and hockey intellect are off the charts. Most impressive is his uncanny ability to read different game situations and adjust on the fly."- Red Line Report 2010 Draft Guide
"This guy's hockey sense is on another planet most nights. You don't notice the skating as much just because he's thinking so far ahead of everyone else; making the right plays and setting the table for his teammates. I don't care who you are-- if you can put up nearly a point-per-game in the SM-Liiga as a teenager the way he did, that's saying something."- NHL scout to New England Hockey Journal; April, 2010
"I think I'm more like a playmaker. I just try to do things with the puck and try to help my team. I think that's my style."- Mikael Granlund to Oilers TV; May, 2010
"I don't want to compare me to anyone else-- I just want to be myself. I have heard some people say I'm like Saku Koivu, but I don't know."- Mikael Granlund to Oilers TV; May, 2010
"I try to get my skating better. That's the biggest thing I think my skating isn't that good enough. I will try to improve and of course I need to get more power and everything basically there."- Mikael Granlund to Oilers TV; May, 2010