The Minnesota Wild have been happy to find themselves in the post-season for each of the past five seasons, but they haven’t made it past the second round and that’s not sitting well. The club did pick up a franchise-best 49 wins last season and they reached 106 points, but they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs and marked the fifth time in eight berths that they lost a series.
So, what’s the plan?
The changes in the off-season have been minimal but nevertheless significant. The Wild lost Erik Haula in the NHL Expansion Draft, but they were able to protect their core group of defencemen. They also swapped for forwards Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis, sending Marco Scandella, Jason Pominville and a draft pick to the Sabres in the exchange.
Minnesota also signed eight players to new deals, including Matt Cullen, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund. They also hired Bob Woods to serve as Bruce Boudreau’s assistant coach, thus replacing Scott Stevens after his May resignation.
Granlund broke out big time in 2016-2017 and should be set for another quality season in 2017-2018. The 25-year-old from Oulu had 69 points in 81 games, including 26 goals and 43 assists. He had seven goals on the power play and managed 177 shots on goal. In five post-season games, he had two assists and 10 shots on target. He should play up to the new deal.
Eric Staal has enjoyed a resurgence as of late in the State of Hockey. He was nearly working to a point-per-game pace for pieces of last season and finished with 65 points in 62 games, including 28 goals. The 32-year-old has plenty of playoff experience and should help push Minnesota further in his second season with the team.
Niederreiter was another Wild forward blessed with a contract and he should be able to replicate his past success in 2017-2018. The 24-year-old pulled 25 goals last season and added 32 assists for a total of 57 points in 82 games. He had eight power play goals and has steadily improved in Minnesota. He should see an increase in ice time this season, too.
Mikko Koivu will battle Staal for the top centre position. The 34-year-old enjoyed an uptick in offensive prosperity in 2016-2017 with a 58-point performance. Koivu wins a lot of faceoffs and will receive a lot of ice time, so he’s not a bad fantasy pick in 2017-2018.
Ryan Suter is one of the NHL’s most reliable defencemen. He has finished first or second in total ice time in each of the past five seasons and seldom misses hockey games. The Wild like to use him in all situations and the Madison native with a dozen years of experience had 40 points in 82 games last season. He averaged 26:55 of ice time in the regular season and topped 29 minutes in the post-season.
Jared Spurgeon had 10 goals last season, one shy of his career-best total in 2015-2016. He had 38 points, however, and that was good enough to mark his best season to date. The 27-year-old from Edmonton averaged 24:01 of ice time in the regular season and sees plenty of time at the NHL level due to his combination of speed, skill and pluck.
Matt Dumba has 11 goals last season and a total of 34 points, plus he cracked off 131 shots on goal. He averaged 20:19 of ice time a game in the regular season and saw time on Minnesota’s top power play unit alongside Suter. He’ll contribute more in 2017-2018 and should see an upward swing in his offensive totals.
Devan Dubnyk has been quietly (or not) piling up wins on the Wild. The 31-year-old had 63 starts last season and won 40 of them. He collected five shutouts and posted a save percentage of .923 with a goals against average of 2.25. The Regina-born netminder has 108 wins over the course of the last three seasons. Only Braden Holtby has more wins in that timespan.
St. Paul native Alex Stalock is slated to be the backup, but it’s not likely he’ll see many starts behind Dubnyk. He saw action in two games last season and spent the majority of the year in Iowa. The San Jose draft pick plays a butterfly style and is very athletic, plus he can take on a lot of starts if he has to.