Prospect storylines to watch as training camps open.
This past week has brought with it one of our favorite times of year, training camps and preseason games. The three week crucible where the strongest punch their ticket to the big show. This year there are a few prospects to watch as we get closer to dropping the puck for real. Without further ado…
Mikael Granlund, C/W Minnesota: Show us what you got
As we all know Mikael Granlund's much anticipated debut didn’t exactly go as scripted. The Wild’s top prospect posted an under whelming eight points in 27 games before being sent back down to the Houston Aeros late in the season. It’s always a bit disconcerting to see a talented player like Granlund under-perform. but with his offensive skills and creativity it’s premature to mark him down too harshly, especially after one short season. Obviously the transition for him to the smaller ice and larger, faster NHL players was more difficult than most had thought it would be.
Part of the problem for Granlund from a perception standpoint was being measured against what were likely too lofty expectations, and maybe just as importantly, a lack of time in the AHL to aid in the transition from European ice. For all his talent a full year in Houston may have better served him. For a smaller, finesse guy like Granlund who’s used to having loads of space to operate, the move to North America would be a bit more difficult one would think. During his brief stint in Houston he produced at a point-per-game pace so there’s still plenty of reason to believe he will eventually make a successful transition to the NHL.
It’s been noted heading into camp that Granlund has been improving on his footwork and will start camp competing against fellow prospect Charlie Coyle for the second line center gig. This will be an interesting battle to watch as there will be plenty of competition for a spot on the second line for the Wild. Besides Coyle, Granlund will be competing against Nino Neiderreiter, Jason Zucker, and a supposedly rejuvenated Dany Heatley. With his size, Granlund may actually fare better if he winds up on the wing, and a Coyle/Granlund second line may be very exciting and profitable combo. Keep tabs on this one all through camp.
Joacim Eriksson Vs. Eddie Lack, G Vancouver: Second-chair Strombone
One thing you have to give Vancouver GM Mike Gillis credit for, the goalie situation is never lacking in talent, entertainment, or drama. Even with Cory Schneider now in New Jersey there is still plenty to watch in the latest season of “As The Blocker Turns”. This season sees a new plot-line: The Battle Of Sweden, B.C. Style! The battle is on between fellow Swedes Eddie Lack and Joacim Eriksson to be Luongo’s backup.
Lack is coming off a season-ending hip injury that derailed his 2012-13 campaign. The undrafted Lack has been at or near the top of many lists of goalie prospects for a couple years now. Coming into last season prior to the injury it was anticipated that he would finally get his shot at a backup job in Vancouver. Through his first two seasons Lack compiled GAA’s of 2.26 and 2.31 and save percentages of .926 and .925 respectively. In spite of starting last year with a 25 save shutout on opening night, the injury started to manifest itself more and the numbers reflected the toll it was taking. And his totals weren’t all due to the injury, as the Chicago Wolves weren’t exactly a well-oiled machine. Lack has completed all his rehab work and is ready to go for the coming season.
Eriksson brings his game across the pond for the first time in 2013-14. Eriksson has been backstopping Skelleftea in Sweden’s Elitserien the last two seasons. In those two campaigns he’s started 30+ each year and posted a sub-2.00 GAA, with a save percentage north of .930 as well over that span. He is expected to go head-to-head with Lack for the backup role, but would very likely be anointed the starter in Utica should he fail to land the job in Vancouver.
In the end all signs point toward Lack as the odds on favorite for a few reasons. Chiefly, 900,000 reasons. That is Lack’s price tag this season whether he’s in Vancouver or Utica. Lack is in the final year of his contract and this year is a one-way deal. Also Lack has paid his dues in the AHL while waiting for an opening, and is further along in his career development. Now that assertion carries a bit of a caveat seeing as how the hip injury and resulting surgery cost Lack a key year, but he is two years older than Eriksson.
Consider too that only one other Swedish goalie has made the jump straight to the NHL, one Henrik Lundqvist. It’s very premature at this point to make any comparisons between Lundy and Eriksson and that would be unfair to both. Still it bears acknowledgement that jumping straight to the NHL from Europe is a rare feat for goalies. Lack’s ability to rebound from the injury is the real wild-card here. If he’s successful, and so far he says he feels better then ever, then he should win the job, but it won’t come easy.
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