Meet Mikael Granlund: The Illustrious New Pittsburgh Penguin


Mikael Granlund with the Nashville Predators. Photo Credit: TSN

On Wednesday, the Penguins announced that the team had acquired forward Mikael Granlund from the Nashville Predators in exchange for a second round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. 

The trade came as the Penguins had made multiple moves to clear cap space and change up their bottom six, including placing Kasperi Kapanen and Brock McGinn on waivers (the former of which was claimed by St. Louis) and trading forward Teddy Blueger to Vegas. 

NHL insider Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff said of Granlund, “Granlund hails from Finland, but he might as well be from Switzerland because he is the perfect Swiss Army Knife for any contending team. He impacts the game in so many different ways.”

Granlund, 31, is in the second year of a four year contract he signed with Nashville in 2021. His contract carries a cap hit of $5 million, which is manageable if he produces, but very steep if he struggles. 

At face value, his numbers are good. For the Predators this season, Granlund scored 9 goals and added 27 assists for 36 points in 58 games. He’s a smart player who has the added benefit of spending very little time in the penalty box, registering only 12 penalty minutes for Nashville this year. His 12 penalty minutes would be one of the lowest amongst Penguin players who are regularly in the lineup. 

Granlund brings playoff experience too, having 32 points in 59 games to his name as the Penguins find themselves in the fight of their lives for a playoff spot in the extremely competitive Eastern Conference. 

But his metrics in the advanced stats area do not serve him favorably. His defense is lacking and he has a tendency to not shoot the puck (perhaps that’s why 3/4 of his points were assists). It’s possible a change in scenery could help him rediscover some missing parts in his game, but it’s definitely a risk with his contract. 

Embattled Penguins GM Ron Hextall said of Granlund “Mikael is a versatile forward, able to play either wing or center, and contribute offensively. He has experience on both the power play and penalty kill and can add options to our lineup.”

Granlund with HIFK Helsinki. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

But Mikael Granlund is more than just your typical trade deadline acquisition. His more than a decade long hockey career is filled with some very interesting tales.

Born in Oulunsalo, Finland, Granlund began his professional playing days with the Finnish team Oulun Kärpät in the SM-liiga, but would play only two games with the big league club before becoming involved in a contract dispute with the team. 

Granlund and his agent, Ilkka Larva, argued that the contract Granlund had signed with the organization back in 2007 could not be valid, since it gave no definition of compensation, and had several other missing key elements of a contract. 

Granlund also claimed that when he signed the insurance application, the end date was listed as April of 2009, but that Kärpät had changed that date to April of 2011 without Granlund’s knowledge or approval. 

Believing that his Kärpät contract was void and that he was therefore a free agent, Granlund signed a deal with HIFK Helsinki for the 2009-10 season. Kärpät protested his attempt to leave the club for Helsinki, and Granlund sued his old team in July of 2009 after Kärpät continued to try and keep him. 

Granlund and Kärpät would reach a settlement about a month later, which allowed him to go and play for HIFK. Kärpät admitted that mistakes were made in the contract process, but claimed they were made in good faith as they were eager to get Granlund on the ice and playing as soon as possible. 

With that whole mess behind him, the 18 year old Granlund would score 13 goals and add 27 assists in 43 games for HIFK. He led all rookies in scoring, and subsequently won the Jarmo Wasama Memorial Trophy as SM-liiga’s top rookie. Granlund was also the recipient of the Raimo Kilpiö Trophy as the league’s “gentleman player of the year.”

Granlund was seen as one of the top European prospects, and at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the Minnesota Wild drafted him 9th overall. 

A commemorative stamp of Granlund’s lacrosse-style goal against Russia. Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports

Granlund was quickly ascending as a rising star in Finland, which would be capped off from his heroic efforts in the 2011 IIHF World Championship playing for the Finnish national team. In the second period of the semifinal game against Russia, Granlund took the puck, skated behind the net, and then proceeded to score a lacrosse style goal to beat Russa’s goaltender. 

The goal went to review, but held up, and Finland would win the game 3-0, earning them a spot in the finals where they beat Sweden 6-1.

The goal was iconic worldwide in the hockey community, but particularly in Finland, where a song called “Taivas Varjele!” which roughly translates to “Good Heavens!” in English. That was what Finnish commentator Antero Mertaranta had said when he saw the goal. 

The song took clips from the game broadcast and remixed them into a single. It became so popular that it went to number two on the Finnish Singles Chart and the top spot on the Finnish Download Chart. 

And as if he wasn’t famous enough already, the Finnish government created a stamp to honor the goal. They sold out mere hours after release

In 2011, Dinamo Minsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, Russia’s top professional league, claimed they owned his playing rights, as they had drafted Granlund a year before the Minnesota Wild did. Granlund however stayed with HIFK for the 2011-12 season and expressed a desire to play in the NHL instead of the KHL. 

After the 2011-12 season, he would make the jump to North America. Unfortunately for him, he signed his contract just as the NHL had entered their 2012 lockout. The Wild sent Granlund to report to their American Hockey League affiliate at the time, the Houston Aeros, where he put up 28 points in 29 games. When the lockout ended, the Wild put Granlund on their opening night roster. 

Granlund with the Minnesota Wild. Photo Credit: Brad Rempel

While his rookie NHL numbers were low, he shined in his sophomore season tallying 41 points in 63 games. 

Granlund would continue to put up very solid numbers for years in Minnesota until he was traded to Nashville at the 2019 trade deadline in a one-for-one deal that sent Kevin Fiala to the Wild. 

As if being traded isn’t stressful and chaotic enough for a player, when the Wild agreed to the trade with the Predators, his fiancé was in labor at the hospital. His son would end up having the same birthday as him. When Minnesota’s GM Paul Fenton was finally able to get in contact with him, they talked about other things for a time before Fenton even mentioned the trade. 

Granlund would play three full seasons with the Predators and started his fourth before he was a part of a string of trades made by Nashville, who is looking to sell off players for assets and futures. 

And now, Mikael Granlund is the newest member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unlike the last time he was traded, he and his fiancé were not expecting a child, and Granlund was able to make his debut in a Penguin uniform on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He etched his way into Penguins history right away, being the first player in Pittsburgh’s 50+ year history to wear the jersey number 64.