Canucks' Granlund has a template for success in old teammate Baertschi


Markus Granlund gets some pointers from assistant coach Glen Gulutzan during practice at UBC on Tuesday.

Markus Granlund gets some pointers from assistant coach Glen Gulutzan during practice at UBC on Tuesday.

Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG

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VANCOUVER — They both needed a fresh start. Last year, Sven Baertschi got his, and now it’s Markus Granlund’s turn.

Both players felt they were spinning their wheels with the Calgary Flames, and had grown frustrated they hadn’t been able to secure a full-time NHL roster spot.

Baertschi is settling in nicely with the Canucks this season, and Granlund is hoping he can do the same.

It’s not surprising that one of the first people Granlund contacted after he was acquired by the Canucks on Monday was his former teammate, Baertschi.

“He told me it is a great team and it is going to be fun,” Granlund said after his first practice with the Canucks on Tuesday.

Baertschi might have been exaggerating about the “great team” part, but Granlund should draw some inspiration from the way Baertschi established himself as a Canuck regular who is getting top-six minutes and power-play time.

He’d like to follow suit.

“I didn’t play that much in Calgary, and I hope I can get a great role here and I can help the team win,” Granlund said. “That’s my goal.”

The paths Baertschi and Granlund took to Vancouver are eerily similar. Baertschi, a former first-round draft pick of Calgary’s, had registered 28 points in 66 games with the Flames before being dealt to Vancouver last March for a second-round pick.

Granlund, a former second-round pick, had also totalled 28 points in 86 games with the Flames when he was acquired by the Canucks in exchange for former first-round draft pick Hunter Shinkaruk.

Granlund, who will become the first Finnish player to play for the Canucks since defenceman Sami Salo left after the 2011-12 season, said he felt he needed a fresh start.

“I have been going up and down (between Calgary and the minors), and now this is a fresh start, so it’s good,” Granlund said.

He skated on a line Tuesday with Emerson Etem and Linden Vey and is expected to make his Canucks debut Thursday versus the Ottawa Senators.

Granlund and Baertschi go back a ways.

They played together for most of the 2013-14 season with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat. Granlund had 25 goals and 46 points in 52 games that season, while Baertschi had 13 goals and 29 points in 41 games.

“We were linemates pretty much every game when we were together in Abbotsford,” Baertschi said. “I enjoyed playing with him. He plays a north-south game at a really fast pace, also has good vision out there and likes to get the puck to the net. But I think the biggest thing for him is his compete level is really high, and he doesn’t like losing the puck.”

Granlund has been described by Canucks GM Jim Benning and coach Willie Desjardins as a two-way player. But Baertschi said he has lots of offensive skill.

“He’s like a (typical) Finnish player,” Baertschi said. “They grew up with a lot of stickhandling and learn that stuff at an early age. He is just smooth, his stickhandling is so smooth and combined with his skating it’s a good combo. I think the main thing for him is his shots come out of nowhere, they are quick. There’s not a big wind-up or anything. You can compare him to his brother (Minnesota Wild forward Mikael Granlund). He’s a pretty similar player.”

Granlund was playing with the AHL’s Stockton Heat when Monday’s trade was made. He had five goals and nine points in 12 games with Stockton and had four goals and seven points in 31 games with the Flames this season.

“I think there are a lot of things where I can improve,” said Granlund, who will wear jersey No. 60 for the Canucks. “I can play more with the puck. I know I have the skill to do that and I just need to be more comfortable.”

It’s unlikely that Baertschi and Granlund will be reunited as linemates in Vancouver. The Canucks like the chemistry being developed between Baertschi and centre Bo Horvat and will be reluctant to break up that duo.

Granlund can play wing as well as centre, but prefers to play in the middle.

“It’s nice to have a guy who is versatile, but I think we’ll start him in the middle,” Desjardins said. “Probably play him with Vey and Etem.”

ICE CHIPS: Winger Radim Vrbata missed his second straight practice Tuesday with a lower-body injury suffered in Sunday’s win over the Colorado Avalanche. Desjardins said Vrbata, who is rumoured to be on the trading block, will not play Thursday and could be “out for a bit.”

Markus Granlund gets some pointers from assistant coach Glen Gulutzan during practice at UBC on Tuesday.

Markus Granlund gets some pointers from assistant coach Glen Gulutzan during practice at UBC on Tuesday.

Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG

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