The Minnesota Wild are again stuck in NHL purgatory. Since their inception, they’ve been good enough to make the playoffs but have never been bona fide contenders. The Wild have never come close to lifting the Stanley Cup, but they’ve also never been bad enough to have a top pick in the draft select a franchise-altering player. This season appears to be no different.
With Kirill Kaprizov’s emergence, fans have had some optimism about the Wild. He’s been an absolute All-Star and a guy Minnesota should be building around. However, Minnesota’s brass is not giving Kaprizov anything to work with. Sure, he’s got his best buddy Mats Zuccarello opposite him, but in the center position on their line? No one has fit the bill.
At the moment, Sam Steel is the 1C, but he isn’t doing much. He’s not a big playmaker and does not have a huge scoring touch. Steel would be better off on a lower line. However, no one on the current roster has enough skill to be considered a true first-line center.
Marco Rossi might be the guy, but he’s stuck in the AHL. This is where the Wild and Bill Guerin need to do something. This team does not want to lose, but the more they lose, the better chance they have at drafting a star player. The more they win, well, it's far from sure that the wins will do them any good.
With the way the Wild are playing, it’s evident that if they make the playoffs, they will be headed toward another first-round exit. They are not playing exciting hockey. Frankly, the last few games have been pretty dull. Sure, Kaprizov is fun to watch, but the rest of the roster is not.
Minnesota seems to be piling on grit instead of skill, especially after acquiring Ryan Reaves earlier in the season. Grit won’t get them anywhere if they don’t have the right playmakers and guys scoring goals.
Matt Boldy is another example of someone the Wild should be building around. Dean Evason has changed the lines a lot this season, and no one has been able to bring out the scoring machine that Boldy has the potential to be. Most of his points come on the power play when he’s playing with guys like Joel Eriksson Ek and Kaprizov.
On Sunday, he was on a line with Marcus Foligno and Freddy Gaudreau. Putting three very different players together like that is probably not a good idea. Foligno has been a mainstay on the GREEF line, and they’ve been one of the best shutdown lines in the league. So why put a shutdown guy on a line with a goal scorer and playmaker in Boldy?
Jordan Greenway has also been incredibly disappointing again this year. He’s got the size, but that’s about it. He doesn’t use it to his advantage, and he doesn’t score, either. Greenway also was a healthy scratch earlier this month because he overslept and was late to a team meeting. Not a good look. He could be a good trade chip and could possibly help the Wild with their center needs.
All four forward lines are frankly underwhelming. The first line has been the only dangerous one, and even other teams can expose them. The only thing the fourth-line guys are good for is penalty-killing. In fairness, that is an important role, and they have nine shorthanded goals, second-best in the league.
But they shouldn’t be on the penalty kill so often in the first place. Another problem the Wild have been dealing with is taking dumb penalties too often. Ryan Hartman has been a guilty party in that regard. He’s been taking stupid penalties, and Evason scratched him for a game.
The faceoff percentage is another aspect of the Wild’s less-than-impressive season. They sit at 27th in the league at 47.8 percent at the faceoff dot. A team full of centermen who can’t win faceoffs is not going anywhere in the postseason. A sad stat like that should have the Wild in the bottom ten of the league overall. Also around the bottom of the league in faceoff percentage: cellar dwellers Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Philidelphia Flyers, all teams looking to get a high draft pick this year. The Wild ended last season also at 27th in the league in faceoff percentage.
Still, the Wild sit third in the Central Division. Depending on how they play after the all-star break, even if they go .500 for the rest of the season, there’s a good chance they won’t make the postseason. Teams like Colorado and Wild Card contenders like the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are clogging up the Western Conference, and there might not be enough room for the Wild if they don’t improve their roster.
The Wild clearly need a 1C, and acquiring players like that is incredibly difficult. Minnesota missed out on Bo Horvat, and other centers available via trade might be too expensive for the Wild. It’s been said that the best way to get a top center is to draft them, and this year’s draft class is very deep.
There are a lot of options for the Wild, but remaining stagnant is something they should avoid. Either they swing for the fences and make trades to improve the team, or they can continue mediocre play and hope for a good draft pick.
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