The lineup that the Minnesota Wild iced versus the Chicago Blackhawks late last night left much to be desired. For the umpteenth time, we saw head coach John Hynes opt for veteran experience over the promising potential of the youth.
Hynes had Marco Rossi skating on the third line again with *checks notes* Marcus Foligno and Freddy Gaudreau. While Foligno has had a relatively good season, his value comes from his defensive impact, not his offensive touch. Gaudreau has been dreadful all around this season (enjoy four more years of it) and will do Rossi no favors.
It’s also baffling that the Wild continue to ice Jon Merrill and Alex Goligoski. Merrill and Goligoski are not going to magically become better players. The duo has produced the lowest expected goals for percentages (xGF%), two of the three highest goals against average per 60 minutes (GA/60), and the two highest shots against per 60 minutes (SA/60) on the team. The chances of Goligoski and Merrill somehow improving are slim to none. Merrill is 32, and Goligoski is 38.
Ryan Hartman returned to his role as the center between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, which is defensible but also makes you wonder why. While Hartman can play that role, why aren’t they putting Rossi there? Hartman has proven that he can be good and sometimes even great in that role. At this point, though, is that what the Wild needs?
I understand that the owner, general manager, coach, and players are all trying to make a playoff push. Guerin said he’s "not waiving the white flag" on January 15. It’s natural to want to make the postseason. While a playoff spot is still in reach, the odds are stacked against this team.
MoneyPuck.com gives the Wild a 2.2% chance of making the postseason. The Wild currently are tied for 26th in the league with 49 points. Upon returning from the All-Star Break, the Wild struggled to get a 2-1 win over the 2023-24 Chicago Blackhawks.
Let me repeat, the 2023-24 Chicago Blackhawks…
Two depth players, Vinni Lettieiri and Foligno, carried the Wild. The top of the lineup failed to contribute. Gaudreau and Marcus Johansson got some cardio in but not much else. Nothing personal against those two, but if they continue to play like that, why not shift them down the lineup? Gaudreau is perfectly capable of playing in a fourth-line role. Johansson can slot in as a third-line winger and give someone else a top-6 opportunity.
The Wild called up Adam Beckman because of his energy and willingness to shoot the puck. Then they sat him down and told him he’d be a healthy scratch. Why not give him an opportunity next to Matt Boldy and Joel Eriksson Ek on the second line?
Guerin sent a public message to Beckman, spelling out how this was “his chance” to succeed. How is Beckman supposed to succeed sitting in the press box or playing eight minutes a night on the fourth line? The Chicago game was a perfect opportunity for Beckman to prove he belongs. It doesn’t make sense to have him watching from the rafters.
No offense to Jake Lucchini, but Beckman still has a chance to prove he can be a capable scoring winger in the NHL. Why not give Beckman the minutes that go to Johansson or Gaudreau and have Lucchini sit in the press box as Johansson or Gaudreau slide down the lineup?
It also makes little sense for newly-acquired defenseman Declan Chisholm to sit out. Why not let the new guy play over Merrill or Goligoski? What do you have to lose against the Blackhawks?
Injuries play a large role in this situation. Jonas Brodin was out last game, and captain Jared Spurgeon won’t play the rest of the season. That’s two marquee defensemen gone. Pat Maroon and Connor Dewar are also on IR and were meaningful contributors to the bottom six. Still, open spots should be opportunities for the young players to step up, not a chance to ice the status quo.
If Beckman can’t even get a look in the lineup against the worst team in the NHL, what hope does a player like Marat Khustnutdinov or Danilla Yurov have? They look like essential pieces to the Wild’s future core. While Yurov’s future for this season is still undecided, Khusnutdinov could be stateside by the end of the month.
The Wild don’t have a lot left to lose. From injuries to inconsistencies, this team’s immediate future looks bleak. The playoffs are a long shot. Management and coaches know what they will get from their aging veterans. Why not give the younger players a chance to test their mettle? If it goes poorly, at least they learned something about the team’s future
In a season that’s slipping away, let the kids play.
All stats and data via HockeyDB, Evolving Hockey, CapFriendly, and NHL.com unless otherwise noted.
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