Zach Parise’s recent back surgery guarantees that the Minnesota Wild will be without the feisty left winger for about two months. In the meantime, expect other guys to step up to fill the gap left by Parise’s absence like Jason Zucker (on the power play), Luke Kunin, Marcus Foligno, and Tyler Ennis. Head coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t seem like he’s exactly landed on his lines just yet, but these four are all arguable seeing at least some extra ice time due to Parise being unavailable. All four will be looking to make a statement in that time, whether it is Zucker making a case for remaining with the power play or Luke Kunin making himself too valuable to the team to be sent back down to the AHL. Depending on what they accomplish, Parise’s return to the active roster could see him in a very different role for the team.
Determining the answer to this question is understandably a backburner issue for Boudreau and his assistant coaches. They’ll probably consider just about every possible iteration of the roster when the time comes, short of breaking up the Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund line. Based on what we’ve seen from Parise and the rest of the Wild last season and now, he belongs on the third line.
I’ve made this argument before. It boiled down to the fact that Koivu and Eric Staal performed better with other wingers than they did with Parise. That’s still true, but there’s another factor in play. When Parise joined the team, he immediately became the most credible offensive threat on the team. It made sense to stash Parise on the top line through thick and thin. That is no longer the case.
Although the Wild have been a bit thin at the winger position with the string of injuries at the beginning of this season, when the roster is healthy it has several top 6 wingers that have entered their prime playing years. As you can see from the table, last season saw Parise drop from being one of the highest scoring players on the team to being just in the middle of the pack. Granted, part of the reason for that was Parise only playing in 69 games last season. Nevertheless, looking at the two measures of scoring rate show that Parise has fallen behind his younger counterparts. In points per game, Parise managed to stay ahead of Zucker, but Zucker had almost power play time compared to Parise’s being a regular fixture of the man advantage units. Even so, Zucker is a measure ahead of Parise in terms of points per 60. Parise is well behind Niederreiter and Granlund in both measures.
Granlund has seized the mantle of top offensive threat on the Wild. Niederreiter, while also being a possession monster that makes everyone on the team better, is critical to the Wild’s power play. Zucker is an even strength dynamo that has finally been getting the man advantage time his play has earned. Parise can and will still be a valuable player for the Wild forward group, but he is not the crown jewel anymore. Granlund, Niederreiter, and Zucker all deserve top billing over Parise at this point.
Parise on the third line also gives it a wily veteran to play alongside Joel Eriksson Ek. Ek, alongside Luke Kunin and a few other prospects, is the future of the team. With the team’s Stanley Cup window creaking shut, the success of the team this year is obviously critical, but the team should also be working to develop players like Ek too. Learning from a player like Parise is a great way to do just that.
It’ll be a huge shot in the arm for the Wild when Parise returns to the ice, but he should do so as a secondary scorer on the third line.
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