Former Wild coach Torchetti sparked Granlund's success
ST. PAUL -- The idea first came up in a cramped coaches' room about this time last year, one of the few things that stuck from a brainstorming session that included Minnesota Wild coach John Torchetti, assistant coach Andrew Brunette, general man...
ST. PAUL - The idea first came up in a cramped coaches' room about this time last year, one of the few things that stuck from a brainstorming session that included Minnesota Wild coach John Torchetti, assistant coach Andrew Brunette, general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr.
With the Wild struggling and desperate for some kind of spark offensively, they thought aloud, why not put center Mikael Granlund on the wing?
Torchetti said he would give it a try.
So on Feb. 26, 2016, Torchetti put Granlund on the wing for a few shifts. Impressed with the results, he tried it again a few nights later.
Each time, Granlund impressed.
"When we saw him play there," Torchetti said, "it was like how do you take him off?"
A year later, Granlund remains on the wing, where he has piled up a career-high 48 points this season, boosting the Wild to their best start in franchise history.
While their ascension to the top of the Western Conference has been attributed in large part to the arrival of coach Bruce Boudreau and center Eric Staal, Torchetti, the interim coach who guided a turbulent team to the playoffs after Mike Yeo's firing last season, deserves at least some of the credit.
Today, the man who sparked Granlund's career and became indirectly tied to this team's success, returns to Xcel Energy Center for the first time since his Wild team lost a six-game series to Dallas in the first round of the playoffs last April.
Torchetti is now an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings, who play the Wild in a nationally televised matinee. And he comes back without bitterness over the Wild hiring Boudreau over him last May.
"It'll be fun; I'm looking forward to it," Torchetti said. "Those guys played hard for me and our staff. They did a good job and got us into the playoffs. We came up short, but I thought a lot of guys made some good strides in understanding what it takes every night. I wish we beat Dallas. That would've been extra special. I thought we did a good job against them but just came up short."
Torchetti lauded several Wild players who he said sacrificed for him, revealing that goalie Devan Dubnyk had shingles during the playoffs but didn't miss a game.
"What else can you ask for from a guy?" Torchetti said. "He was fantastic. Fans don't know stuff like that, but I sat there in awe of him. He could barely sit still and then he comes out in practices and wins playoff games. That's a tough situation, so that tells you a lot about certain players. Those are the things that stand out."
Torchetti said he remains friends with Fletcher and Flahr, and caught up with Flahr when the assistant GM was on a scouting trip in Buffalo, N.Y., last month while the Red Wings were playing there.
Torchetti said he has kept tabs on the Wild this season, and hopes they make a run in the playoffs.
"I love watching them," he said. "They're doing a great job, and they have a good chance to get to the Stanley Cup."
Torchetti became interim coach for the Wild on Feb. 14, 2016, guiding the team to a fourth straight playoff berth behind a 15-11-1 close to the season.
But he said he's most proud of the way players developed under him during two stints as the franchise's minor-league head coach, which spanned four seasons. As the Wild's American Hockey League coach, he mentored Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Matt Dumba, Jason Zucker and Jonas Brodin.
"I don't know how many we had go from the AHL to the NHL, but that was the best part about it," Torchetti said. "Seeing them grow and watching them become 60-minute pros. How hard those kids worked to get there, that's what a lot of people don't understand."