Hockey crazed countries often put tremendous pressure on young players to perform when it comes to the Olympics, and Mikael Granlund is no exception. After his fellow Finn and Minnesota Wild teammate Mikko Koivu announced that he had yet to fully recover from a broken ankle, the fresh-faced 21-year-old was forced to center the top line in Sochi. Through three games, Granlund has done an impressive job filling the void left by Koivu.
It didn’t take long for Granlund to get his name on the score sheet in his first Olympic competition against Austria. Playing on a line with the best player Finland has ever produced in Teemu Selanne, Granlund scored his team’s first goal with a beautiful shot that beat Austrian goaltender Bernhard Starkbaum. He would later add another goal and an assist en route to an 8-4 victory for Finland. He also came close to another in the first period but hit the post on a wide open net on a play that he would certainly like to have back. It was noticeable that the stage was not too big for Granlund and he was prepared to rise to the occasion.
While his second game lacked the statistical similarities for Granlund, he put together another solid performance to lead Finland to their second victory. He is consistently making others around him better with his precision passing and great anticipation. Where he is perhaps most deadly is when he is setting up the powerplay. Finland stations him on the half-wall and looks to get him the puck at every opportunity. He utilizes the larger ice surface well and moves the puck quickly to create scoring chances for his teammates who are the beneficiaries of his passing.
A much more difficult test was present for Finland when they faced Canada on Sunday. Granlund and company were tested more in their third game and forced to play defensively against the talented Canadians. Fortunately for Finland, goaltender Tuukka Rask stood on his head for much of the game to give them a chance and Finland just missed the upset bid in overtime, losing 2-1. Unable to possess the puck like they did against Austria and Norway, Finland didn’t get as many shots on Carey Price as they would have liked. Granlund looked to be outmatched for the majority of the game and his lack of size cost him every time he touched the puck. While Finland was likely expecting more from Granlund in the offensive zone, Canada is capable of shutting down any player in the world given their depth at defense.
Wild fans should be excited to see Mikael Granlund playing well on the world stage. It will certainly help his development to play against the top competition at such a tender age. Add in the fact that he has been forced into the role of centering the first line and you get something that will benefit his future with the Minnesota Wild.