Kent Wilson: You have followed Markus Granlund’s development for awhile now. What would you say are his strengths as a player?
Matias Strozyk: Markus has excellent offensive skills. Mikael is a fantastic playmaker and is better overall, obviously, but Markus has the same confidence to hold onto the puck and create chances. Even though Markus has a pretty decent shot, he stands out for his passes and playmaking. He makes smart passes to keep the puck moving and the game flowing.
Markus also positions himself well to either create a play, offer a teammate a chance to pass or set himself up for a scoring chance. He’s got a massive hunger for points but lacks the same attitude in the defensive end.
KW: What are his main weaknesses?
MS: Obviously he needs to gain a lot of strength and this coming summer is a big opportunity for him to develop his physique. That should also improve his skating since his speed suffers from the lack of strength in his legs. He’s gotten a lot better in both areas in the past year.
Occasionally it also seemed like Markus was still playing in junior leagues where he was able to dominate against virtually every opponent. He tried to make plays that don’t work against professionals and should be more straightforward and stick to his strengths. He also has a lot of work ahead in his two-way game since sometimes he was pretty lost in the defensive zone. Some of that is simpy about his attitude and work ethic which has plenty of room for improvement in terms of defense.
KW: I saw Markus live in a game again Team Canada during the the World Junior Championships. He seemed tentative in the corners and generally uninterested in physical battles for the puck. Is that an accurate representation of some of his short-comings, or was that a case of a bad game or just struggling under different circumstances?
MS: Markus is grittier and more aggressive than his brother. I was actually surprised about how often he was the one in the middle of scrums after the whistle. On the other that’s one example of doing things he shouldn’t really have to be dealing with now that he’s no longer playing against teenagers, it’s not a part of his role – not that it’s a problem.
Markus seemed a bit soft at the World Juniors to me as well and it wasn’t the most accurate representation of his skill. He actually came back from the WJC looking like a better player than he was going in, and even scored a few goals from right in front of the net, which isn’t exactly his favourite part of the ice. He wasn’t as willing to get into battles in the juniors so a year in the pros has certainly benefited his physicality.
KW: I recently looked at Granlund’s results for HIFK this year and discovered he had the second highest point-per-game pace amongst teenagers in the league, next to only his brother Mikael. Is he considered one of the best young forwards in Finland?
MS: Absolutely. There have been quite a few young prospects in the spotlight here lately and that has stolen some of the attention Markus deserves. He’s not among the top 5 prospects or the top 3 forwards but it’s still far more likely that he’ll end up as a decent NHLer than be stuck in Europe for all of his career. Mikael is in a completely different class and his biggest challenger seems to be 2013 prospect Alexander Barkov.
Markus has a lot of similarities with 2012 draft eligible Teuvo Teräväinen but Teräväinen, too, is ahead of him in pretty much every aspect – except maybe competitive spirit, that’s what drives Markus forward. It’s difficult to project his future since I’m not yet sure he has what it takes to be a top 6 forward in the NHL and on the other hand he’s not the type of player to put in your 3rd or 4th line.
KW: Mikael Granlund is obviously one of the best young prospects in hockey. How much of Markus’ performance for Helsinki this year was dependent on his older brother? Related – how do you expect Markus to do next year with Mikael playing in the NHL with the Wild?
MS: At first it seemed like he needed Mikael next to him to create opportunities and if you look at Markus’ goals, especially early in the season, a big portion of them involved Mikael. Of course one could explain that with the fact that Markus often played in the same line and they obviously had very good chemistry.
His "dependency" on Mikael changed a bit in the last few months of the season when Mikael was far from his level, even downright bad – just like he was againt North Americans at the Worlds in May. Markus, on the other hand, had a good run and scored 18 points in 21 games during the last two months of regular season. The post-WJC part of the season turned out to be his best even though that was the time Mikael pretty much disappeared from the picture.
It will be interesting to see what happens next season. It’s a big year for Markus, that’s for sure. HIFK lost a lot of talent, inluding three of their centers, and Markus should grab a big role from the top two lines.