Jump to content
Hockey Wilderness
  • Minnesota Wild Season Preview: Forwards


    Uncertainty characterizes the Minnesota Wild’s forward group at the start of the 2016-17 season. Outside of the top line, questions abound for how Bruce Boudreau will construct his forward lines. The failure of general manager Chuck Fletcher to sign Matt Cullen or another fourth line center and the missed opportunity of players like Tyler Graovac and Zac Dalpe to definitively seize the position has left Minnesota’s fourth line with some particularly big question marks. The good news is that the Wild’s top nine is filled with players that are able to slot in up and down the line and, in some cases, in multiple positions. This will give Boudreau lots of flexibility to tinker with his lines and find what works.

    Although they will undoubtedly change early and often, and the opening night roster will be without Joel Eriksson Ek due to salary cap and immigration issues, here is a best guess look at Minnesota’s lines, their roles, and their expected performance this season.

    Zach Parise - Eric Staal - Charlie Coyle

    Boudreau has made no secret about the make up of his top line. The performance of Parise, Staal, and Coyle in the preseason has seemingly confirmed that this trio has chemistry and the ability to score. The size and offensive tendencies of Staal and Coyle are suggestive of Boudreau’s time in Anaheim with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Last season, Getzlaf and Perry were joined by young two-way forward Rickard Rakell for some early success despite the Ducks’ terrible stretch in the beginning of last season. Rakell is a bit more sizeable than Parise, but Parise has a higher offensive ceiling. Look for the Wild’s top line to have a strong offensive focus with high volume shooting.

    If Staal can engineer a bit of a resurgence, and he’s in an excellent position to do so, then expect 20+ goal, 55-65 point seasons from all three members of this line. Boudreau expects his top line to carry the water when it comes to scoring, and the combination of size, shooting, and tenacity found on this line should yield results.

    Mikael Granlund - Mikko Koivu - Jason Pominville

    By the second line, we already see some possibility for shuffling. Pominville will be starting here, but it would not be surprising to see either Nino Niedereitter, Jason Zucker, Chris Stewart, or maybe even Teemu Pulkkinen plugged in on the right wing. Boudreau has stated that he envisions Koivu playing a role for the Wild similar to the one Ryan Kesler played in Anaheim, namely a tough, two-way game that frustrates opponents and capitalizes on the resulting scoring chances. Pominville rediscovered his scoring touch late last season, but ultimately for this line to succeed on the offensive side of the ice, it needs a shooter. Koivu is one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL and Granlund learned to be defensively responsible while playing at center. All three forwards have strong positioning and should be able to handle the tough defensive zone starts Boudreau is likely to throw their way.

    Strong secondary scoring and the reasonable amount of power play time these guys will see means we should expect to see 15-20 goals and around 50 points for the forwards on the second line. Koivu had a career year last season and Granlund seemed to thrive on his wing. The right wing, whoever it is, will benefit from having two players that like to pass setting him up and will likely lead the line in terms of goal scoring.

    Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Chris Stewart

    This line will be the home for players likely moving all around the lineup. Niederreiter deserves a top 6 role on the this team, but his effectiveness with Haula means he will start the season on the third line. Stewart was likely originally intended to beef up the scoring of the fourth line, but playing up on the third line isn’t a huge stretch for the big-bodied forward. The combination of Niederreiter and Haula screams “puck possession”. Boudreau will be able to use this line to specifically target the opposing team’s top threats or wear out the opposition by pinning them in their own zone. All in all, this line is meant to make it difficult for other coaches to game plan the Wild as it provides disruptive play and secondary scoring.

    Niederreiter will likely get 20+ again this season, but if he is stuck on this line and doesn’t get a lot of powerplay time don’t expect him to reach 30 this year. Haula and Stewart will be able to chip about 10-15 goals apiece. 35-45 points is probably reasonable for this group, with Niederreiter possibly ending up a little higher in point totals.

    Jason Zucker - Joel Eriksson Ek - Teemu Pulkkinen

    As constructed, this line does not fit the prototypical NHL fourth line or Boudreau’s stated expectation for a fourth line, namely that they cannot allow goals to be scored on them. The Wild claimed Pulkkinen off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings. He possesses an elite shot but is not an exceptional skater or two-way player. Jason Zucker is a speedster with a nose for the net, but is guilty of occasional defensive lapses. Eriksson Ek is the only forward you might expect on the fourth line as he is known for being defensively responsible, but as one of Minnesota’s top prospects he is likely better served getting more ice time and special teams experience in Iowa or back in Sweden. He also won’t be playing tomorrow night due to the previously mentioned issues, so Dalpe will likely be centering this line to start.

    If this group does stay together, expect them to be sheltered with lots of offensive zone starts. This would allow them to take advantage of Zucker’s speed and Pulkkinen’s shot. If/when Eriksson Ek is sent back to Sweden, expect Dalpe or possibly Graovac to center the line and for it to transition back to Boudreau’s standard expectation for a fourth line. Both Zucker and Pulkkinen seem likely candidates to be moved up to higher lines if they play well, which may push Stewart down to this line. No one expects a lot of points from their fourth line, but the first version of this fourth line could buck that tendency.



    Think you could write a story like this? Hockey Wilderness wants you to develop your voice, find an audience, and we'll pay you to do it. Just fill out this form.

    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    There are no comments to display.

    Join the conversation

    You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
    Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

    Add a comment...

    ×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

      Only 75 emoji are allowed.

    ×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

    ×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

    ×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...