Mikael Granlund is smiling a lot more now than he was last year.
“I wasn’t really happy at all the whole season,” the 31-year-old center-winger shared on the second day of San Jose Sharks training camp.
After a 2021-22 season where he put up 64 points, including a career-high 53 assists, and led all forwards for the playoff-bound Nashville Predators in ice-time, Granlund and the Preds slumped last year. Nashville was out of the playoff picture, and Granlund had just 36 points in 58 games, when they traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Trade Deadline.
“It’s just one of those seasons, the whole team, it didn’t go our way,” he said.
Things got worse in the Steel City. Hailed as an all-around forward who would help turn Pittsburgh into a contender, he mustered just five points in 21 appearances, and the Pens just missed the playoffs.
“When you look at the players we had on the team, that was probably the best team I’ve ever played with. And that was the first time I didn’t make the playoffs,” Granlund said of a Pittsburgh squad that featured three future Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. “That was a weird feeling, but that’s hockey.”
In the off-season, Granlund and his contract, two years left at $5 million AAV – who as recently as last Trade Deadline fetched a second-round pick straight-up in a deal – was seen league-wide as a cap dump. The San Jose Sharks were happy to take the Finn on, part of a larger deal that sent Erik Karlsson to the Penguins.
Granlund might be going to, on paper, the worst team that he’s ever been on. So why is he so happy?
First, he’s excited about the talent that the Sharks have amassed, especially up front, where they’ve added Anthony Duclair, Mike Hoffman, Filip Zadina, and himself. There’s a potential for San Jose to have Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Granlund up the middle – that’s a playoff-caliber top-three centers.
“We can put up a really good four lines and I’m really excited about that,” he said. “I have a feeling we might surprise a lot of people.”
He also doesn’t have the weight of the world on his shoulders right now. In Pittsburgh, he received a lot of blame for the Penguins missing the playoffs, and the subsequent regime change from Ron Hextall to Kyle Dubas.
“Honestly, the blame, whatever I’ve got from the outside, that’s not even close to what I got for myself,” he shared.
And despite his up-and-down campaign, he’s still fully confident in his two-way abilities, which have helped him surpass 60 points three times and be a penalty-killing staple on nine-straight Minnesota Wild and Nashville playoff teams, from 2013 to 2022.
“I’m 100 percent sure I haven’t lost it,” he said.
And even though we’re just two days into training camp, the Sharks have seen Granlund that, at camp and during Captain’s Skates.
“You can see it in his face. He’s happy to be here. He seems to be in a really good mindset. We’re sitting here talking about him after every practice, last few days. This guy’s the real deal,” head coach David Quinn raved.
Like John Hynes did in Nashville, Quinn says he’s going to lean heavily on Granlund in all situations: “This guy brings it every shift. He brings it every drill and practice. He’s got really good skill. Smart. People that know him speak very highly of him.”
Those people include Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan and ex-Predators head coach Hynes, both good friends of Quinn.
“I’m in a really good place right now,” Granlund said. “That’s why I have a smile back on my face.”
Quinn predicted: “He’s gonna have a good year for us.”
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