Jump to content
Hockey Wilderness
  • The Wild Will Surprise Everyone and Better Last Year's Successes

    Kayla Hynnek

    Throughout Opening Week, 10K Rinks staff will be going on the record with the boldest predictions they can muster. Will they be proven right? Will their picks go down in flames? We’ll start finding out Thursday.


    The Minnesota Wild finished last year with the best season they’ve ever had. They ended up with a 53-22-7 record, good for 113 points. However, they still got booted from the playoffs in the first round. Besides trading Kevin Fiala, not much happened to the roster over the summer. They finished the preseason with a 6-1 record, and everyone already looks to be in midseason form.


    Is it too early to predict that the Wild will finish even better than they did last year? We're going on record and saying: Nope. They'll even take the Central Division title.


    For the Wild to win the Central, they must look at last season and improve on what held them back. The main culprits? The penalty kill and power play. Top center Ryan Hartman, who scored all but one of his 34 goals last season at even strength, is painfully aware of the power play woes. “Obviously, we get the message,” Hartman said in September. “We know things weren’t great. We know it was a difference-maker for us in the playoffs. Even throughout the year, it’s what hurt us.


    “We had a great season. You can only imagine what the season would have been like if those things were tightened up and where we would have been at in the postseason. We’ve gotten the message pretty clear.”


    Special teams typically need time to click, and the Wild never had the practices last year to get it working.


    “We’re working on it every day we’ve been out here at practice,” Hartman continued. “We need to be less predictable, maybe predictable on our end, but not for the other teams. Shooting the puck early, I don’t want to give away all the secrets; just make the simple play.”


    Dean Evason has said that personnel is the biggest change to the power play this year. Enter two rookies who recently officially made the opening night roster: Marco Rossi and Calen Addison.


    “That’s why they’re here, right?” Evason said. “They’ve been drafted, that’s what they do. So that’s what they’re gonna do here. We want them to make our hockey club and do what they do. Both those guys are power-play guys, and they will play on the power play.”


    Addison looks like he will quarterback the first power play unit with the regular suspects, Kirill Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Matt Boldy. Rossi is on the second unit with Hartman, Marcus Foligno, Freddy Gaudreau, and Jared Spurgeon. In 29 chances over seven preseason games, the power play scored seven times. Addison, Kaprizov, and Zuccarello — all on that first unit — combined for four of the power play goals.


    The Wild’s power play was ranked 18th last season. Imagine what this team will look like if this year’s power play is top ten or even top five.


    Goaltending is another opportunity for the Wild to improve. Future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson are the guys in net this year. It looks like it will be a 60/40 split in favor of Fleury. That shouldn’t be a problem unless Fleury, 37, regresses. Many think Gustavsson is a downgrade from Cam Talbot, but he was still a second-round pick in 2016 and has not had the opportunity to play consistently. Plus, Gustavsson was very good in his preseason games. He stopped 25 of 26 shots against the Chicago Blackhawks last week. If he can give the Wild solid backup goaltending, they should be solid in that area.


    What about Fiala? Everyone seemed to think the Wild would take a step back after trading Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings. He was Minnesota’s second-best goal-scorer, but Fiala was inconsistent and took too many penalties. Furthermore, the Wild never made an effort to replace him, so clearly, they must think they have a solution to his missing offense in-house.


    Plenty of players on the Wild roster can take that next step and provide offense in Fiala's absence. Matt Boldy looks like the guy most likely to take his role. He’s on the No. 1 power-play unit. His playmaking and scoring abilities will hopefully make fans forget about Fiala.


    Many preseason predictions have Minnesota finishing second behind the reigning champion Colorado Avalanche. The Avs will be the ones to beat for the next few years. Some even have them as the next dynasty in the NHL. Their star power is undeniable, and now they have a Stanley Cup to show for it.


    The Wild beat Colorado twice this preseason. However, both games were played with many non-roster players, so the games don’t mean much. Minnesota went 2-1-1 against the Avs last year, and the two teams have not met in the playoffs since the 2013-14 season when the Wild won in seven games.


    Still, the St. Louis Blues seem to be the real thorns in Minnesota’s side. They went winless (0-1-2) against the Blues last year, and St. Louis stunned the Wild in last year’s playoffs. If the Wild can figure out how to win against the Blues this season, they should be fine. They might even make it out of the first round of the playoffs.


    There’s only one way to prove that last year was not a fluke: Be better than last season. The Wild have all the tools they need to be the Central Division champs. They recognized their errors of last season, and they spent all training camp improving on things like special teams.


    With Minnesota’s pipeline, there should be no doubt that the Wild will only keep improving. A prized goaltender in Jesper Wallstedt, along with many top-tier defensive prospects, means they have the talent to keep being contenders for quite a while. Even better, though, is that they definitely have what it takes to take on the Avalanche for Central Division supremacy in the here and now.

    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...