The Minnesota Wild closed the books on another season with a dazzling run to the post-season, finishing with a 46-28-8 record that featured a dynamite 28-9-3 run after mid-January. Prior to their run, they were sitting at 18-19-5 on January 13 and looked well out of a playoff spot. Thanks to their big finish, Minnesota took a good charge in the post-season and eliminated the Central Division champs in the first round.
The Wild haven’t done a lot with their roster and they seem to firmly believe they can build on the successes of 2014-2015. There are unquestionably many reasons to believe that, from their steadiness in goal to a defensively robust roster that allowed just 198 goals in the regular season. Still, being swept out of the post-season by the Chicago Blackhawks wasn’t the way the Wild wanted it to end.
Minnesota certainly has a lot to work with. They posted the second-most points in their history and have seven core players signed through 2018-2019. They signed University of Minnesota defenceman Mike Reilly away from the Columbus Blue Jackets after his draft rights expired. And they’re looking to stick with what they have, what with just $2.5 million to spare under the cap.
The Wild do have some issues offensively, especially down the middle. Their centres were the least productive last season, coming up with a measly 49 goals. Captain Mikko Koivu was good for 14 goals last season, while top line centre Mikael Granlund had eight goals and added 31 assists. Granlund just inked a two year deal worth $6 million and should be ready to emerge as a top-tier player for the Wild.
Charlie Coyle scored 11 goals and came up with 35 points in a campaign that saw him solidify his game as a playmaker. His defensive game still needs some work, but the system in Minnesota should help with that. Erik Haula rounds out the unit at centre. He had seven goals and seven helpers last season, but there were some defensive lapses and he’ll need to work on using his size.
Zach Parise powers this team offensively. He had 33 goals last season and finished with 62 points overall. He had 11 goals on the power play and continues to fuel the Wild’s attack with his intelligent play and overall ability. Jason Pominville continues to be a key piece as well. He had 54 points last season, including 18 goals. Thomas Vanek can still produce.
Ryan Suter is the man of the hour. He led the NHL’s defencemen in ice time last season, making it the third straight year he’s done so. He had 38 points in 77 games and is one of the best all-round defenders in the league. Suter’s shown no signs of cracking under the job, either, but he may start levelling off as Minnesota introduces some new blood to the blueline.
After Suter, this is a compact young crowd. Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon will be leading the Wild core into the future. Dumba is a marvellous skater and he plays aggressively, which led to 16 points in 58 games last season. He has the potential to log big minutes, too, which should lessen the workload for Suter.
Brodin had 17 points last season and can move the puck. He’s also another minute-munching blueliner, averaging over 24 minutes a game last season and maintaining good energy levels. Spurgeon is a confident defender with a good shot. He scored nine goals in 66 games and can produce consistently, plus he plays well beyond his size.
Minnesota will have Devan Dubnyk between the pipes for the full season and that’s going to give them a serious boost. He went 29-9-2 down the stretch, posting five shutouts. Dubnyk played 39 of the Wild’s last 40 games. He earned a six year deal worth $26 million as a reward and he’s earned the money. Now he’ll have a chance to solidify his efforts in the prime of his career.
Darcy Kuemper is slated to back up Dubnyk. He has 56 starts and was solid in relief for the Wild last season. In 31 games last season, Kuemper had 14 wins and posted a goals against average of 2.60 with a .905 save percentage. He has a huge frame and handles the puck well, which can kick off the Wild’s attack. Nicklas Backstrom is still in line, too.
Mike Reilly is surely at the top of the list for Wild prospects. Signed as a free agent on July 1, Reilly spent last season at the University of Minnesota and had 42 points in 39 games. He’s a talented offensive defenceman with outstanding vision, plus he makes few mistakes in his own end. Reilly could lead this group down the road.
Tyler Graovac is another electrifying prospect. The 22-year-old centre from Brampton has a great shot and a quick release, although there are some defensive inconsistencies. Coach Mike Yeo will be waiting to see how Graovac performs in training camp, but things are definitely looking up. He has a tremendous work ethic and could slot in on the third or fourth line right away.
The Path Ahead
Things look good for Minnesota. This is one of the sturdiest defensive teams in the league, plus they boast a remarkable tandem with Dubnyk and Kuemper in goal. There are some issues up front, like at the centre ice position, but they have sufficient scoring depth on the wings thanks to Parise and Pominville. This is close a complete team and there’s a lot to like in their prospect pool.
The Wild may finally be at that place where they can build for years to come and put a top-tier hockey team on the ice. The team undoubtedly believes they’re worthy of Cup contention and they’re right. They can push deep in the post-season and get the job done, which could mean 2015-2016 is their year to shine.