NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
Last season, the Minnesota Wild didn't have much time to decide if Mikael Granlund was ready to make an impact in the NHL. With just seven days of training camp to vet the 20-year old center from Oulu, Finland, the Wild penciled the ninth selection in the 2010 NHL Draft into their second-line center role.
After scoring a goal in his NHL debut, Granlund didn't score another goal until April 16. In between was a demotion to the Wild's fourth line and a month with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League after a 19-game stint in which he produced the lone goal and five assists.
Needless to say, it wasn't the season many inside or outside the organization expected.
So far in training camp, Wild coach Mike Yeo has been impressed with how hard Granlund seems to have worked during the summer on a couple of key issues: His ability to better judge time and space on the NHL-sized ice sheet, as well as his speed and compete levels.
"Last season, I realized what kind of game I would need this year," Granlund said. "I found out what I need to do better and I had time this summer to focus on it."
The work seems to have worked.
"I think he looks a step quicker," Yeo said. "And probably more importantly for him, something we addressed last year was just in that small area, small ice game I think he's moving his feet quicker. I think he's stronger on the puck compared to what I saw last year."
Granlund said he went to work on those things back in Finland, working out with a number of NHL veterans who train there in the summer.
"We had good skates and good time with a personal trainer," Granlund said. "I feel faster and stronger. I am going in the right direction."
There will also be significantly less pressure on Granlund in the build-up to this season as well. Instead of having the designation as a top-six guy from day one, Granlund has been, and continues to be, entrenched in a position battle with fellow sophomore Charlie Coyle for the No. 2 center job.
That flexibility means the Wild will be in much better shape to weather any potential stretch in case Granlund still isn't ready at the start of the year.
"The one thing with [Granlund] is, let's all have some patience here," Yeo said. "He was thrown into the fire last year under a real difficult situation."
Should Granlund struggle into the season, the Wild have a number of other quality prospects at its disposal -- including Coyle, rookie and fellow Finn Erik Haula, as well as Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine. Granlund could also end up on the wing if Coyle wins the No. 2 center job.
It's a competition that Granlund said benefits both him and the other guys battling for spots.
"We're best friends off the ice, but when you go to practice, on the ice, you're competing for the same spots. It's fun. I think it pushes everybody," Granlund said. "The best players are going to play and you try to do all you can to play. And if you're not, you know you have to work even harder."
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