Found November 08, 2012 on Fox Sports North:
If not for the NHL lockout, Wild prospects Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin may have very well started the 2012-13 season on Minnesota's roster. Granlund, the Wild's top draft pick in 2010, is a 20-year-old forward who scored 51 points in 45 games last year playing in his native Finland. He came to the United States this fall with the hope of beginning his NHL career with Minnesota.Brodin is another international product. The 19-year-old defenseman from Sweden was taken 10th overall by the Wild in the 2011 NHL draft.The Wild signed high-profile free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter during the offseason and were hoping to be able to add young prospects such as Granlund and Brodin to this year's team. But as labor talks between NHL players and owners continue to delay the start of the NHL season, those two youngsters and many others instead began the year playing in the American Hockey League. For Granlund and Brodin, that means playing for the Houston Aeros, the AHL affiliate of the Wild.Not long into the starts of their AHL careers, Granlund and Brodin were both injured in the same game against the Oklahoma City Barons last weekend. Granlund suffered a sprained ankle and will miss two to four weeks, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday, and Brodin is out 8 to 12 weeks with a broken clavicle.The injuries were a tough blow for the Aeros, who were hoping to enjoy what little time they had with two of the Wild's top prospects."That's the American League. Last year we went through 40-plus players," Aeros head coach John Torchetti said. "Somebody else gets a great opportunity now. Those guys, hopefully they heal up and they get better and if the season starts back there, they'll be able to make training camp."Before his injury, Granlund was turning heads in the AHL. In his first month with the Aeros, he was named the league's Rookie of the Month for October after he scored three goals and added seven assists in seven games. Right away, Torchetti knew Houston had a special player on its hands, if only for the duration of the NHL lockout."He just steps into the American League and wins Rookie of the Month," Torchetti said. "I think he did a great job. He just wants to be good at everything he does. He plays well defensively. He competes very hard. A lot of people will be surprised at his size, but he's got a high competitive level."Granlund's skill with the puck impressed his new Houston teammates, including goalie Matt Hackett."He's just a smart player. You watch him out there, he doesn't make too many mistakes," said Hackett, who made his NHL debut with the Wild last year but whose path back to the NHL is blocked by Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. "He's sneaky. He's got a great shot and he knows where to put it. He's a playmaker and he can pass too, so he's got an all-around game. "It's fun to watch, especially as a goalie. You know you don't want to face that guy on the other team, but it's nice to have him on our side."Brodin doesn't bring the flashy scoring ability Granlund does, but he's a solid defenseman who is viewed as the Wild's No. 2 prospect behind Granlund. Given the time needed to recover from his broken clavicle, there's a chance Brodin won't be able to start his NHL career just yet if the lockout ends soon.Like Granlund, Brodin made a strong first impression in his brief time with the Aeros before his injury."He adjusted really well," Torchetti said. "I think (the Wild) were happy with his development up to that point. It's a misfortune that he got hurt. He already fit in well. I thought he made the adjustment. "I thought that he was going to be ready if the NHL started the next day; he'd be ready to go play."Granlund and Brodin aren't the only young Wild prospects who might have started the season in the NHL. Torchetti estimates that three to five players currently on the Houston roster might be in Minnesota now if not for the lockout. Several of the Aeros did play for the Wild last year, including several who made their NHL debuts. With an influx of NHL-caliber players currently skating in the AHL, the pace of the league is much faster, according to Torchetti and Hackett. And as the NHL continues to be locked out, the AHL has given young players an opportunity to stay fresh while they wait for the league to resume.If and when the NHL does start back up again, it will mean players like Granlund and Brodin (if healthy) will be leaving the AHL for greener pastures. "For us, we're thinking about what players might be going to start the year there or their training camps," Torchetti said. "We want to think about that and just having them ready. That's what our job is here. We can't worry about what we don't have or who's going where. We have kind of a little bit of a game plan, and we're focused on that. We just want to make sure the players are ready for the big club."Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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