Mikael Granlund and other free agents that can help NHL teams to the Finnish line
Inside the unscripted NHL career of UFA Mikael Granlund
If there ever was a script to Mikael Granlund’s NHL career, it wasn’t followed.
Granlund arrived in North America in 2012, to much fanfare, although the NHL was in lockdown mode. The Minnesota Wild prospect spent the fall in the AHL with the Houston Aeros.
A highly skilled forward, Granlund did fairly well in the AHL. When the NHL finally kicked off in January 2013, “Granny” scored a goal in his debut. The joy was short-lived, though. Back to the AHL he headed after a series of unspectacular displays.
It soon became clear Granlund wasn’t the rainmaker that his European success – an IIHF Worlds gold medal, complete with a legendary lacrosse-style goal – promised him to be. Only after four NHL seasons did he put up star-like numbers: in the 2016-17 season, he posted 26 goals and 69 points.
Trade talk had no impact on Mikael Granlund
Trade talk surrounded Granlund during all of his time with the Wild. In early 2019, finally, he was traded to the Nashville Predators for Kevin Fiala. Granted, there were ups and downs, but Granny soon became an asset for the Preds. And then? You guessed it: trade talk.
“I realize a trade is possible, of course. But it must not affect my daily work on the ice,” Granlund told me in January 2020. “I have no say as to what happens next. The important thing for me is to play hockey and have fun. I’ll just take it one day at a time. Let’s see what happens.”
Those words still ring true. In September, Preds GM David Poile announced that Granlund won’t return. The guy that once was expected to become a superstar, even a franchise player, is an unrestricted free agent now and set to join his third NHL team.
Mikael Granlund NHL career recap in numbers: 540 NHL games, 352 points. In the Stanley Cup playoffs: 49 games and 24 points.
Sami Vatanen could help any team looking for defense
Just like Granlund, defenseman Sami Vatanen moved to North America from Europe in 2012. And yes: he’s also a UFA now.
A golf fanatic, Vatanen enjoyed his time in Southern California with the Anaheim Ducks. He became surplus to requirements in 2017, however, and was traded to the New Jersey Devils. His Devil days weren’t that great – often due to injuries – but in 2019-20 he really upped the ante. He seemed more poised and hungrier; after posting respectable numbers, he became a trade chip.
Long story short: before the pandemic broke out, Vatanen played better than ever. And he clearly had a move in mind.
“If you do your best every night and play well, you’ll get a good contract. Simple as that,” he told me in December 2019. “It’s my contract season, so these things occasionally go through my mind. But I always forget everything else when the puck hits the ice.”
Indeed, Vatanen found a new home. The Carolina Hurricanes acquired him on the 2020 trade deadline. We all know what happened in the global health arena in March – Vatanen made his Canes debut no earlier than August 1st.
Vatanen and the Canes seemed a good fit. Nevertheless, his days with the club were numbered. A smooth-skating, puck-moving, right-hand shot defenseman, anyone?
Erik Haula will bolster any team’s lines
Erik Haula is the third significant Finn on the UFA market. He was well-liked in Minnesota – having played NCAA hockey for the Minnesota Golden Gophers – but eventually moved to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft in 2017.
Vegas excelled in their debut season and even made it to the Stanley Cup Final. A bad knee injury destroyed the next season for Haula. In the 2019 offseason, he was acquired by the Hurricanes; in February 2020, he moved to the Florida Panthers.
Haula is a guy who focuses on his on-ice job – he’s hardly a media favorite – and could become a useful depth forward for an NHL contender in 2020-21.