Erik Haula is coming off a great stint with the University of Minnesota. The Finnesotan finished off his collegiate career with 124 points in 114 games. After the Gophers were eliminated from the Frozen Four, Haula joined up with the then Houston Aeros for 11 games. In five regular season games he tallied 2 points; he continued in the playoffs by notching a goal and an assist. His fellow countryman, Mikael Granlund finished with nearly a point per game total (28 points in 29 games).
Looking at stats alone, you would assume Granlund would have the edge here. He was drafted 9th overall by the Wild in 2010, and without a doubt he has talent and superstar potential. His stick skills and vision are amazing; if you recall some of his highlights from the 2012-2013 season you'll see why. He has the ability to compete in the NHL, but last year he had a little problem transitioning. He dominated the AHL, but had a hard time making the jump to the big leagues. Not only is he 5' 10" 180 lbs, but he had trouble keeping up with his slow foot work and skating speed (if anyone remembers early Zach Parise, he had the same problem; lack of size and skating speed. Look how that worked out). Once Granlund gets his skating up to par, I have no doubt his stats will take off.
Looking at how good Haula is in a Gophers sweater, one forgets where the Wild drafted him. He was taken in the 7th round, 182nd overall. Honestly, I think this is a steal, and he hasn't even played one game for the Wild. The big thing that I like, is his will to compete and improve his hockey skills. He has come a long way; in his first season for the gophers he tallied 24 points in 34 games. He has put on some size since his freshman season and is a little bigger than Granlund being 5' 11" and weighing 190 lbs.
While Granlund is quiet, Haula is outspoken. If you read some articles on him, his drive is what any hockey club would want in a player. He wants to play in the NHL and he knows he can accomplish that. He is doing everything he can do impress the upper management to give him a shot at cracking the roster, and he is now giving them second thoughts. I completely think that Haula and Granlund will be the future first and second line centers for the Wild. I just think that Haula will use his size and strength to transition him to the second line position first.
I know Granlund will be a future number 1 center in the NHL, he just has some stiff competition. If Granlund comes into training camp and assumes he has a job like last year (he was told he made the team before camp), he will have another thing coming. Not only does Haula give him some stiff competition, he has Coyle in the wings. He played center the majority of his hockey career. On opening night, look to see a number 19 between the wings on the second line.