As expected, the Minnesota Wild extended Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Hartman, and Marcus Foligno. Bill Guerin stood by his word and retained his veteran leaders. According to The Athletic’s Michael Russo, Kaprizov loves playing with Hartman. It looks like head coach Dean Evason will start Hartman again with Kaprizov and Zuccarello. Therefore, it made sense to extend him.
The team needs to take action in upgrading its middle-six. The Wild can’t expect the top line of Zuccarello, Hartman, and Kaprizov to create all of the offense, so they should showcase Matt Boldy more. There, he can help Kaprizov quarterback the top power-play unit.
Boldy is entering his third NHL season and hopes to continue elevating his game. However, he'll have reinforcements. Marco Rossi can come in and quarterback the second power-play unit. His job will be winning faceoffs, playing a responsible game, and mixing it up to facilitate the offense. By doing so, Evason will have no choice but to play him more.
Danila Yurov can eventually take over for Marcus Johansson the following season, allowing the Wild to keep Brandon Duhaime and Connor Dewar. Yurov will get to play at his natural right wing position. He'll be a rookie, but Yurov will have a good enough supporting cast to produce points and for Evason to trust him. He can help quarterback the power play with Rossi on the team's second unit. Yurov can play center and take faceoffs if he needs to. He's very motivated to play with Kaprizov eventually.
Marat Khusnutdinov should also come over for 2024-25. Khusnutdinov struggled to get minutes in Russia, but a trade can change the circumstances for him to get playing time. Khusnutdinov can serve as another quarterback to help Rossi and Yurov on the second power-play unit. He can also assist Joel Eriksson Ek and Foligno in increasing their point totals at even strength. That’s a path for the Wild to maximize Foligno’s $4 million cap hit.
Khusnutdinov can substitute in taking faceoffs and be free to create offense because Foligno and Eriksson Ek are safety blankets; especially Foligno, who will stand up for him. Khusnutdinov can become a monster playing with Foligno and Eriksson Ek – an underrated dynamic, versatile forward who can play all situations with speed.
Other prospects like Liam Öhgren and Sammy Walker will battling for a roster spot this time next year. However, I expect Khusnutdinov to make the team. Khusnutdinov has more upside than Walker and can match his speed. We can expect Walker to be one of the first call-ups with Adam Beckman, which means it ultimately comes down to Khusnutdinov and Öhgren. Öhgren is more likely to need a couple of years to develop in the minors by playing first-line minutes, which is why they extended Zuccarello.
Evason can still use Freddy Gaudreau frequently to shut down scoring lines on the penalty kill. He can work exceptionally well with Duhaime and Dewar to limit the league’s best power plays. Gaudreau can play all situations. They can showcase Dewar and Duhaime more when going up against top lines. Together, they will make a strong and speedy trio.
The 13th forward spot is currently open, but expect Guerin to extend Maroon for at least one-to-two years. If not Maroon, perhaps a healthy Mason Shaw could take the 13th forward slot?
The defense gets more interesting. The 2023-24 season is make-or-break for Calen Addison because he has to improve his overall game. Regardless, I believe this is Addison’s last stint with the Wild. An emerging talent like Carson Lambos will be ready to audition for a roster spot in 2024-25. While Lambos may not be a top quarterback for the Wild, he can still create chaos due to his smooth skating ability and puck-carrying skills. Unlike Addison, he plays the responsible game.
Jonas Brodin and Brock Faber will have to take the biggest assignments. The Wild will give them top penalty kill minutes and ask them to limit mistakes. Faber is making his mistakes now. In 2024-25, Faber will develop more and better than he is now. Transitioning to the NHL from college isn't easy.
Lambos and Spurgeon can be a really good and reliable duo on both ends. They can play in every situation. Jared Spurgeon would be a good mentor for Lambos during the early stages of his NHL career. Eventually, Lambos can become a top-pairing defenseman once Brodin comes off the books.
Jacob Middleton still serves a vital role for the team. He’ll play shutdown minutes at even strength and the penalty kill. His physical game will pave the way for prospects like Daemon Hunt, Ryan O'Rourke, Kyle Masters, and David Spacek. Hunt and O'Rourke are more developed than Masters and Spacek. I'd imagine Masters and Spacek play big minutes in Iowa.
Hunt or O'Rourke could be an excellent partner to Middleton, creating chaos for opponents and serving on the penalty kill. Hunt or O’Rourke will help support the offense by jumping in the play and shooting from the point, creating a reliable and underrated pairing. That way, you don't have to worry about overplaying Spurgeon and Brodin.
Jon Merrill will serve as the seventh defender. That’s a good role suited for him to step in when injuries happen. He can play the penalty kill and some crucial minutes.
Filip Gustavsson is going to be the man between the pipes going forward. Doesn't have the elite upside like Kaprizov, but could there be a chance he elevates his game to be a franchise goaltender? Having a legitimate starter with good size and mobility between the pipes will turn the Wild into a problem. Can Gustavsson catch lightning in a bottle like Jordan Binnington did with the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues? That would maximize his contract, especially with reinforcements.
If they're not yet sold on Jesper Wallstedt being ready to play in the NHL in 2024-25, the Wild can make a play for a trustworthy backup goalie to play 20-to-30 games for a year. There are many of them. We expect Marc-Andre Fleury to retire but still be involved in the team's front office, but who knows?
Evason must let Minnesota’s rookies experience the NHL this year and next and learn from their mistakes. He can’t expect perfection from prospects. While coaches should have standards, they can't suffocate prospects. Evason must trust his young talent while the veterans continue supporting and protecting them. Maroon’s Stanley Cup experience is crucial, and the youngsters will be free to play because they are protected. The prospects can thrive in a middle-six role soon giving the Wild an electric group.
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