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  • The Wild Are Building A Formidable Russian Connection

    Image courtesy of Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
    Brendan Johnson


    The Minnesota Wild’s identity becomes more apparent as the team begins its playoff push. With the season's trade deadline in the rearview mirror, the team prepares themselves for the toughest and most crucial time of the season. The Wild have called up a few prospects to the NHL in the last month.

    Mason Shaw is returning from his fourth ACL tear, and they’ve signed Marat Khusnutdinov and called up Adam Beckman. All three have the potential to make an impact immediately. This is the best time for a team that was sellers at the trade deadline to get some new faces, some experience, and opportunities to gel with the already established players. It's a low-risk, high-reward situation for Minnesota. 

    If the Wild continue on this winning trajectory (12-4-3 record since the All-Star Break), they will be in the playoffs this season, especially with the boost that Shaw, Beckman, and Khusnutdinov can bring to the organization every night. 

    Minnesota added a handful of younger players on expiring contracts at the trade deadline. The moves were highly anticipated, with no surprise departures. Future draft picks in upcoming drafts compensated for many of these moves. Looking at Bill Guerin's trades cumulatively, we can begin to decipher his vision for the Wild.

    The Wild staff has continued on a path that starts formulating a more identifiable future strategy. Bringing Khusnutdinov in is part of it. So is bringing Vladislav Firstov from overseas into Iowa. Even a move as small as trading Connor Dewar to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Dmitry Ovchinnikov hints at this.

    Minnesota’s identity has started to form into a hybrid style of hockey. The team's future is headed towards two lines with different focuses. One will focus on a North American style of play centered on speed, physicality, and toughness. The second will be a Russian style of play, focused more on speed and puck control. 

    The Russian style of play is really the most potent, with small, faster, highly skilled players who tend to be shorter and smaller in stature. Their size and pure speed will frustrate opponents trying to contain such elusive world-class athletes. These players will wear the opposition down quickly, especially the ones who don’t skate all four lines evenly. 

    When you start setting up your team for the playoffs, you must take into account that you can possibly play each team seven times within 14 days, with thousands of miles of travel in between. Therefore, building a team that plays multiple styles means being able to set the tempo and not allowing the opposition to dictate anything.

    As you look at Minnesota’s current roster, the team seems to have close to four solid, productive lines. When building a roster, you will have a successful team year every year if you can get three of the four lines to be positive in plus/minus and one dominant line with +20-+25. 

    The Wild have always emphasized a defensive style of play, and transitioning to a new style isn’t easy. Evolving your identity involves acquiring players with the history and/or skills needed to execute successfully in the NHL. 

    Let’s separate the team into three categories to highlight this hybrid style.  

    The first is the Russian style, with Kirill Kaprizov joining Khusnutdinov and top prospect Danila Yurov. The Wild emphasizes the offensive players constantly circling, always m, making presumably unpredictable playstyle. They have designed it for faster and smaller players who can be elusive and explosive.  

    The second is the North American style, which involves bigger guys like Matt Boldy, Ryan Hartman, and Joel Eriksson Ek. Minnesota’s North American-style players who play at a high level in this system are 6-foot-0 to 6-foot-2. The Wild have packed their roster with promising, explosive, and talented young men with the skills to become a winning team.  

    The third is a group of reliable, dependable, rather healthy, defensively sound d-men who do an excellent job keeping the opposition's scoring opportunities to a minimum. Brock Faber is a potent defenseman who has become a potent quarterback on the power play as a rookie. 

    Winning is the ultimate goal every day, and entering the playoffs is important — except to the diehard Wild fans who don’t want that this year. We have lived that life for too many years, knowing deep down inside that we don’t have what it takes. 

    A second line focusing on speed, skill, and toughness that the Wild can juggle depending on the opponent that night complements Kaprizov and the insanely talented group of Russians already in the system who are ready or not far off. They should have a third and fourth line that can score while containing the opposition’s top line. 

    The Wild will put the veterans in a position they haven’t had: being out there to impose their style of play on the game instead of just trying to keep the score close. The young Russians will be something we haven’t seen in Minnesota, a group that will set the pace each night. 

    That will cause many older teams to realize they are dealing with a team that can dictate the game in many different facets while complimented by defensemen who keep the opportunities to a minimum while in the defensive zone. The future looks bright in the State of Hockey.  


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    I'm not so sure I agree with Brendan on this, at least wholeheartedly. It seems to me that the hybrid is not between 2 styles of play, but 3. Forgotten in the writing is our contingent of Scandinavian players which also seem to have a puck possession type of style, yet, are bigger players. 

    On defense, while we have shut down opponents type of defense right now, that's not the future. It appears that Brackett has given us a particular defender who is shorter and a puck mover. The only thing missing from these guys is strength/weight to play in the N, along with enough experience. These guys are 2-way defenders, who are responsible in their own zone, yet can get the puck going the other way and they can all skate. They appear to be interchangeable and if most of them make it, we will be able to roll 3 pairs without much of a drop off. They'll be here soon, but I think it will take them the full 5 years of development. 

    I do like the ability to play different styles, however, and even if the coach puts them in the line blender, you could get different identities out of the combinations. And, I don't particularly mind the shorter statures, as long as the strength/weight is there where they can get leverage and finish off taller players. 

    I still believe, however, that having a couple of large defenders is a must and being able to throw out that heavy line when needed. Currently, we do not have the ability to throw the heavy line, but Midsy and Bogo are exactly what the defense needs, and can be seen often killing penalties together. Hartman and Foligno are 2/3rds of a heavy line, Foligno needs a partner. Is that guy Kumpulainen or Stramel? Maybe.

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    The team has slowly clamped down on games defensively. The PK is still a scary issue, but even strength defense and goaltending has been better.  I think if Gus can have more games closer to last night, the Wild can hopefully keep ground or overtake Vegas.

    Edited by Citizen Strife
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    2 hours ago, mnfaninnc said:

    I'm not so sure I agree with Brendan on this, at least wholeheartedly. It seems to me that the hybrid is not between 2 styles of play, but 3. Forgotten in the writing is our contingent of Scandinavian players which also seem to have a puck possession type of style, yet, are bigger players. 

    I think that could be looped in with the American style. Speed and tenacity versus speed and finesse. Speed being the key throughout both, pushing the pace but punishing differently. The finesse will kill legs, constantly playing chase and moving quick side to side, the heavy puck possession physical boys ideally will be like Ek now, constantly grinding you down, putting weight on you, physically battling every second. I equate it to boxing, your speed demons making you chase and move awkwardly firing away vs clinching and leaning on your opponent, both effective but different and the combo could be exciting to see, especially if the opponent is trapped in their D zone and able to make a change on the fly.  I agree with most of your post but didn't want to have to include the full thing. The defense needs some big ol trees on it. Immovable rooted bodies. but having a Faber and Chisholm who can skate and move the puck also are needed to keep the pressure up.

    I think it is similar to the Herb Brooks strategy of taking the fight to them instead of waiting to counter across all line, something we are not very used to but beginning to see more.

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