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  • Did A Super Line Solve the Wild’s Skid?

    Image courtesy of Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
    Tony Abbott

    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.

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    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.

    I'd be curious to what the underlying numbers look like for the Zucc/Hartsy/Mojo and the Foligno/Ek/Maroon lines.

    Specifically, the past two games Foligno has looked pretty darn good...it felt like they were what really changed the tide in the NYR game.

    I've honestly been more impressed with lines 2/3/4 over what 1's been able to do the past 2 games

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    I think it would have to take an injury on that top line for Dean to put KK97 & Zucc back together, I think he'd had enough. ROBOKAP has been money ever since being formed. If that 2nd line can somewhat keep pace from the Rags game it'd actually be a really good secondary scoring line, they had 6 combined points against the Rags. Combine that with the shutdown MEEF line and a gritty 4th line the forward group is actually really balanced.

    I just HOPE once Freddy comes back Dean doesn't throw him back on his 3rd line spot just because and move Maroon or Foglino down to the 4th and mess with chemistry.

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    46 minutes ago, M_Nels said:

    I just HOPE once Freddy comes back Dean doesn't throw him back on his 3rd line spot just because and move Maroon or Foglino down to the 4th and mess with chemistry.

    Have to assume it would be Maroon or Gaudreau on 4th line when everyone is healthy. Both are capable of playing up in the lineup, but someone needs to fill that role and Maroon is probably the most likely based upon age & contract.

    Foligno is definitely not going to 4th line.

    When everyone is healthy, it wouldn't be completely shocking to see Hartman up with Boldy and Kaprizov, JEE with Zuccy and Johansson, and Rossi with Foligno and Gaudreau, but I don't have a problem with Rossi up on line 1 right now. Also can understand keeping JEE with Foligno for a shut down line.

    Hartman is tied for 11th in goals at the moment, and leading the Wild, so it could make sense for him to go back to #1 or continue to work with Johansson and Zuccy. Evason will figure it out, and maybe that does mean Rossi continuing in the #1 center role.

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    5 hours ago, Imyourhuckleberry said:

    Hartman is tied for 11th in goals at the moment, and leading the Wild, so it could make sense for him to go back to #1 or continue to work with Johansson and Zuccy. Evason will figure it out, and maybe that does mean Rossi continuing in the #1 center role.

    Hartman plays the kind of game where he can produce regardless of the line. He plays hard around the crease looking for dirty goals, and is talented enough to create his own offense. It seemed the biggest issue with the top line was Zuccy and Kap being so damn pass happy back and forth. I think once Rossi Boldy and Kap have some time together they could be scary good. Hartman will still do Hartman things on the wind line. He'll even the 3rd line he could work well. He's just a greasy gritty player with sneaky talent. 

    Edited by Greenbean
    Misspelled word
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    7 hours ago, Imyourhuckleberry said:

    Evason will figure it out, and maybe that does mean Rossi continuing in the #1 center role.

    Don't bet on this. He needs to go. I'll be interested to see  the effort in the next game.

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    Why not throw your best 2 wings and center on the top line? We need secondary scoring, but having a real top line is nice. 

    Now, will this top line be physical enough? Will others try and take advantage? I think some might, and that's why you can come back with the Ek-Foligno-Maroon line against their top line and really play heavy with them. Don't worry about the guy messing with our top line, worry about the guy with the same name on the front of the jersey who puts pucks in the net. 

    I loved last year when Hartman reverse hit the Jet. It was a message sent that it didn't matter if you were the guy who sat on Kaprizov, you're wearing the same color sweater and need your head on a swivel. Ehlers did not come fully back from that hit through the playoffs. That is the way to do retribution. 

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    Hartman has been solid so far. Like the 4M he's getting as he continues to look good getting production to offset the bad penalties. The Norwegian Hobbit and Foligno are doing pretty okay currently too but I'm waiting to give the Wild too much credit. They barely squeaked one out against NYR and have two more big games before playing Dallas. If the Wild can win a couple of these tough ones, especially against Dallas then perhaps we can say they've turned the page on the crummy start. Five losses isn't too bad in the big picture, but being 500% for too much longer would be a bad sign.

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    IMO. The lines are as close to as good as you can get with these players. If we really want to get to an advance in playoffs then Rossi needs to breakout like he’s doing.  He needs to stay on top line if he continues his strong play .  Maybe moving Boldy to 2 nd line is necessary if they need to make a legit second scoring line. I agree with comment about no toughness on first line to protect kappy. Even with Middleton or Merrill out there , no one protects kap. I wish foligno or Maroon  would skate the opposing bench at beginning of game and let them know you run our  star we run your stars all night long. Not fight the scrub but hit there stars over and over all night long. !!!  Then kap might get some room. 
       I think you keep the ek foligno maroon line. They are the heaviest line and all play a heavy skilled game. That’s priceless.  They can lean on teams like we need. Then you have your 4 th line an energy line  to fly around. 
        I don’t I understand the Rossi moose Fred line. I haven’t seen them shut down anything. It makes moose play more skill and not as much heavy. Rossi seems to adapt to styles . Fred is just Fred.  Played top 6 minutes last year and had 38 points. He plays the skill game but not enough to be top 6 . He doesn’t play with energy . He’s always gliding an avoiding contact. I get others like him. I don’t and don’t see where he fit’s except for press box . 5 years. Wow. 
        I kinda think this is close to the best lines they can put together .  Now it’s time to see if they actually perform against good teams not ones with backup goalies or save Percentage under 700. Edm. I am pleasantly surprised by Rossi. I hope he can continue it against strong competition. 

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