May 17 2012 10:08PM
A lot of time and energy has been devoted here and elsewhere to following Sven Baertschi. And for good reason - the Swiss phenom had the best season the Calgary organization has seen out of a forward prospect since Jarome Iginla ate up the WHL as an 18/19 year old (63 goals, 136 points in 63 games).
Sven's big season has overshadowed other good efforts in the organization's prospect pool however. A guy who has slipped through the cracks a bit is former second rounder Markus Granlund, recently ranked 9th amongst Calgary prospects by the crew here at FN.
I recently took a closer look at Granlund's results this year in context of his peers and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Aside from Baertschi's 5 game cup of coffee with the Flames, Granlund was the only Flames teenage who played in a pro league this season and he managed to do more than hold his head above water.
Top of The Class
Granlund played on HIFK in the SM-liiga (Finnish elite league) with older brother Mikael and placed 6th on the team in scoring with 15 goals and 34 points in 47 games. That doesn't seem overly impressive, but keep in mind the SM-liiga is a highly competitive league - one of the best in the world in fact. Like the NHL, Teens don't often make the active roster, let alone make much of an impact.
To determine just how rare Granlund's performance was this season, I looked over every SM-liiga team's roster and collected every player younger than 20 who played in at least one game this season. Here is the complete list, ranked by point-per-game pace:
43 teenagers dressed in various capacities for clubs in Finland this year, although only a few of them played regularly. Granlund placed second in the league amongst teens in terms point-per-game pace, behind only his older brother (a former 9th overall pick). Right behind Markus is Joel Armia, a first round pick from the last June.
Some other names of note are Teuvo Teravainen (who will likely go in the first round this year) and 15 year old (!) Aleksandr Barkov.
To whittle things down to a more meaningful list, I compared Granlund to his primary peers - other 18 year old forwards:
Only eleven 18-year old forwards skated during the regular season and only Armia and Granlund played meaningful roles for their respective clubs.
Of course, maybe it was just a really weak year for 18 year-olds in the Sm-liiga? To add some flesh to the bones, I looked at some high profile NHLers that spent their formative years in that very same league to see how Granlund compared:
Eight modern NHLers made the cut. Most of of them had 18/19 year old seasons to look at, except Filppula, Leino and Miettinen who began life as a pro in their 19-20 year old seasons. I included their results in those years.
Future hall-of-famer Teemu Selanne is out on an island all by himself, while Olli Jokinen is the only guy close to Granlund in terms of point-per-game pace at 18. Neither of the Koivu brothers put comparably good years at the same age (although Saku went on to dominate proceedings at 19/20) and even Filppula, Leino and Meittinen weren't within spitting distance of Markus despite being a year older.
So Far So Good
The kid is keeping pretty good company, both in terms of his contemporaries and countrymen that have trod a similar path in the past. In terms of NHL equivalency, Granlund finished the year at 32, a small step behind John Gaudreau (34) and Michael Ferland (35), both of whom played in lesser leagues and were therefore more likely to play bigger roles on their respective teams.
A couple of caveats apply to Granlund's fine season: while a quality pro league, the play in the SM-liiga is qualitatively different than that of North American hockey, especially the NHL. Sometimes guys who have played their entire lives over seas have issues translating their game on this side of the pond.
In addition, Granlund was no doubt helped along by the presence of older bro Mikael, who was one of the top scorers in the entire league (Mikael scored at a 0.92 PPG pace at the same age by the way). It remains to be seen to what degree Markus benefitted from playing with Mikael in 2011-12. Of course, Granlund the elder will no doubt make the Minnesota Wild out of camp this coming October, leaving Granlund the younger in Finland to fend for himself.
If Markus can take a step forward without the help of Mikael in 2012-13, then he'll certainly finish higher than 9th in Calgary's prospects rankings next year.