In their third season under head coach Mike Yeo, the
Minnesota Wild played to 43 wins (most since 20087-08) and got passed the
Western Conference Quarterfinals for the first time since 2002-03.
Thomas Vanek – LW Matt
Moulson – LW
Brett Sutter – LW Dany
Heatley – LW
Stu Bickel – D Nate
Prosser – D
Clayton Stoner – D
Ilya Bryzgalov – G
Cody McCormick – C
After having one of the better seasons in their franchises’
history the Wild have a lot to look forward to in 2014-15. This offseason they
signed Thomas Vanek to a three-year deal worth $19.5 million. He joins an
already profound group of forwards that will look to improve on their 2.43
goals per game that ranked 24th in the NHL a season ago. Vanek bounced around
from Buffalo to Long Island to Montreal last season but still posted one of the
highest point totals of his career (68 points in 78 games). He came up short in
the playoffs for the Canadiens, but there is no denying his potential for a
30-goal, 40 assist season.
Couple Vanek’s talent with the likes of Zach Parise, JasonPominville, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter and you are
looking at a pretty dangerous offence. In his second season in Minnesota,
Parise had 29 goals and 27 assists (56 points) in 67 games. He missed a large
chunk of the season with a broken foot, but after returning in mid-March he
played his best hockey of the season posting 17 points (8G / 9A) in 20 games.
Parise has averaged 3.7 shots per game in two years with the Wild, which is
down from the 4.4 he averaged when he scored 45 goals in 2008-09 in New Jersey.
Despite diminishing shot totals, Parise is not a player who misses time due to
injury, so expect a healthy season and a lock for 30 goals with the potential
for a return to the 40-goal club.
As far as the other forwards are concerned, Pominville is
one of the most consistent and dependable forwards in the NHL. Koivu is pretty
much the same, you will not get a lot of goal production, but 40-plus assists
is a near certainty. Then there is the two 22-year-olds. After disappointing
with the Islanders, Niederreiter started coming into his own last season. He
finished the year with 14 goals and 22 assists (36 points) in 81 games and
looked great for the Wild in the postseason. He has a big frame at 6-foot-2 and
despite coming along slowly, it looks lion El Nino is here to stay. As for
Granlund, he returned from Sochi and put up 13 points in 17 games and is poised
for a breakout season this year. The Finnish phenom is a tremendous playmaker
and should easily post 40 assists and 60 points this season.
On the blueline, Ryan Suter is a freak. The guy plays half
of the game every night. Last season he averaged 29:24 TOI per game, which was
2:20 more than Erik Karlsson who ranked second in the NHL. He has never
eclipsed the 50-point mark, but was on pace for 54 in the lockout shortened
After Suter there is a lot of quality youth on the Wild’s
back-end. Jared Spurgeon, 24, was second
among D on the team in power-play time per game (2:07), points (26) and
plus-minus (+15). At 5-foot-9, 168 lbs. he is under-sized but he plays a
consistent two-way game and sees a lot of time on the PP. Jonas Brodin, 21, is
much more highly touted than Spurgeon and will spend the majority of the season
playing on the top-pair with Suter. Brodin is an excellent skater and his
offensive game continues to progress.
They also have 23-year-old Christian Folinwho ready to start
his NHL career. He was highly sought after coming out of UMass-Lowell last
season and ended up signing a two-year deal with the Wild. He is a big-boy at
6-foot-3, 210 lbs. and has a pretty strong two-way game. We expect him to start
on the Wild’s third pair but could move up. Last year’s seventh overall pick
Mathew Dumba will attempt to make the team out of training camp. He played 13
games with the Wild last season, before the club elected to send him back to
the Western Hockey League for one more season. He is a hard hitting blueliner
with a good offensive game to go with it. He had two points (1G / 1A) in his
brief stint with the Wild and went on to have eight goals and 16 assists (24
points) in 26 games with the Portland Winterhawks. It is a crowded blueline,
but that is a good problem to have if you are Minnesota.
The big question mark lies in goal. Josh Harding had a
tremendous start to the year last season, but complications with multiple
sclerosis ended his season in late December. Health will always be a huge
concern for the 30-year-old. Niklas Backstrom does not have the scary disease
that Harding does, but staying off of the injury report is equally as hard for
him. He only started 21 games last season and was largely ineffective posting a
3.02 GAA and .899 SV% while only winning five games. Darcy Kuemper was a stud
down the stretch for Minny, but it is hard to believe the former ECHLer is
going to be the answer in net for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Season prediction: The Wild finish fifth in the Central
Division but squeak into the playoffs as the second Wild Card team.
View the Wild’s entire roster and cap space heading into the
2014 – 2015 season
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