In the past season, we've seen Dean Evason flirt with the idea of putting his best players together. For about 150 5-on-5 minutes, mostly following penalty kills, Evason iced Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy simultaneously. But mostly, the Minnesota Wild stuck to their philosophy of keeping their top playmakers on separate lines.
It might seem like Evason dragged his feet to break the emergency glass and load up his top line. That's not true, though. Yes, it took until November 2, 10 games into the season, and with Minnesota well on their way to a seventh loss to get there. But we must remember that we're only talking about Boldy's third game of the season.
Accounting for that, Evason blew things up quickly. However, there may have been no choice down 3-0 after the first period. So the Wild put their two-time 40-goal scorer, a 30-goal scorer from last year, and their top center prospect from the 2020 Draft together for the first time. And Kaprizov, Boldy, and Rossi didn't disappoint.
Despite getting the worst scoring chances on their maiden voyage, this new line still managed to out-score the New Jersey Devils 2-0 to force two comebacks to get within one goal. Rossi registered a goal and assist in his first shot at a starring role, and Boldy notched two assists on his own. Minnesota eventually lost 5-3, but the new top line defibrillated a team pronounced dead after 20 minutes.
When something works, Evason likes to stick with it. So on Saturday, the Wild ran back the high-upside line that fans have dreamed about since 2020 against the New York Rangers. After two quick early goals (mostly on the struggling Filip Gustavsson), the trio made their case to keep sticking together with a go-ahead goal in what became an emotional 5-4 shootout victory.
It's a Hail Mary from Evason. The only question is: Is it going to work?
You can point out that the underlying numbers don't look great so far, but we're also talking about 23 minutes in two pretty bizarre games. History is probably the better lens with which to look at this line's prospects, and if you're going to have a Mega Top Line, you'd be hard-pressed to think of a better set of wingers to build it around than Kaprizov and Boldy.
They are incredibly talented offensive wingers who bring a different skill set to the table. Kaprizov's skating enables him to keep his options open at all times, creating impossible shooting and passing lanes even with pressure. Boldy weaves through traffic with a 6'3" frame and impressive stickhandling abilities. Both are volume shooters who can convert those into goals.
Even better, this slow start aside, both Kaprizov and Boldy are also excellent two-way forces. They are among the top of the league in terms of defensive impact over the past three seasons. Given that Kaprizov is 26 and Boldy is 22, this two-way dominance should hold up over the foreseeable future.
Then there's Rossi, the net-crashing rookie who's collected five goals. He's not just tied among the rookie leaders for goals. He's tied for fourth among Calder Trophy-eligible players in points. With all seven of his points coming at 5-on-5, he's also the rookie leader in 5-on-5 points. Among members of Rossi's 2020 Draft classmates, he's tied for first in 5-on-5 scoring, and he's also tied for eighth in all situations. His reputation as a smart, responsible two-way center should also help turn the tide of scoring chances his line's way.
Throwing a team's three best forwards on the top line is a tried-and-true strategy. There are perhaps two concerns for the Wild doing it, though. The first is, will there be enough pucks to go around? All three players like to create with the puck in their hands and like to shoot. Rossi is taking 9.9 shots per hour at 5-on-5 this season. Last season, Boldy registered 9.0 shots per 60, and Kaprizov 8.0 per hour at 5-on-5 play.
Can all three shoot enough to be as productive as they need to be?
It's possible. Looking at lines with 400-plus minutes last year, we can see that the Buffalo Sabres' top line of Jeff Skinner-Tage Thompson-Alex Tuch and the Pittsburgh Penguins' Jason Zucker-Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust line hit 8.0 or more shots per hour at 5-on-5 for the season. Other lines, like Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Rickard Rakell top line or the Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Jake DeBrusk combination, came close and had all three members be extremely productive.
Minnesota's current top line should be able to navigate the situation. None of them are selfish players, and they're skilled enough passers to take what the defense gives them.
The bigger concern might be secondary scoring for a team that finished near the bottom of the NHL at generating 5-on-5 offense last year. The Wild were able to dispel that worry against the Rangers, at least for a night.
The Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello grouping is still intact, and now Marcus Johansson, arguably their strongest play-driver this year, joins them. The line chipped in two goals on Saturday night and looked solid throughout. So did Joel Eriksson Ek's line, rounded out with plenty-skilled bruisers like Marcus Foligno and Pat Maroon. Eriksson Ek got a goal of his own and has historically thrived on that kind of line.
Line changes don't always stick in Minnesota, and it's easy to see a future where Evason puts Kaprizov back with long-time running mate Zuccarello. But in the meantime, suppose Kaprizov-Rossi-Boldy is giving them a spark. Then why not roll with it and see if they can become their answer to, say, Dallas Stars' Jason Robertson-Joe Pavelski-Roope Hintz line? Or maybe the Colorado Avalanche's murderers' row of Some Guy-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen? It's a fun look and certainly not one the Wild have had the ability to try before.