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  • There's No Need To Worry About Kaprizov and Fiala

    Aaron Heckmann

    The Minnesota Wild's stars haven't performed up to expectations. Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala combined for one goal through eight games, and Joel Eriksson Ek has one point aside from his hat trick against the Winnipeg Jets. Likewise, Jared Spurgeon hasn't been his usual self either, and he's widely known as an analytics darling.


    Alarm bells weren't exactly ringing over individual slow starts. It's early in the season, and the Wild are 6-3-0. Still, it was a promising sign that Minnesota's stars flourished in a strong team performance against the Ottawa Senators. Their top players appeared more engaged and motivated, and they had substantial numbers to show for it.


    It could have been the lineup changes that caused the spark. Kaprizov was with Frederick Gaudreau and Ryan Hartman, while Fiala was with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The most exciting thing here is that they both flourished.


    After a sluggish start, Kaprizov had his best game of the season. The Wild controlled 80.46 percent of expected goals with him on the ice. After not shooting from dangerous areas all year, he had eight shot attempts, including four high-danger chances. His overtime goal, where he sniped the puck on one knee after Fiala's cross-ice pass? Icing on the cake.


    Kaprizov signed a lucrative five-year extension right before the season began, and there is no doubt that he feels the pressure. His breakthrough will hopefully jumpstart his game. The relief on his face was evident. Kaprizov needs to keep generating those high-danger chances, especially from the slot where he exploited teams last season.


    Fiala and Eriksson Ek had strong games as well. Fiala looked like himself all game. He had seven shot attempts and controlled play. In overtime, he had strong play in the neutral zone and displayed patience and unselfishness, assisting on Kaprizov's winner.


    Spurgeon had a fantastic game, too. One of his best so far this season. The Wild were dominant with him on the ice. He was their best defenseman against the Senators, controlling 88 percent of the expected goals.


    The next stretch of games will be significant. If Minnesota's top players can't build off their strong performances, there needs to be more urgency surrounding their lack of production. Ultimately, they may want to insert their prospects into the lineup to ignite a spark.


    Matt Boldy is currently injured, but Marco Rossi would be a significant addition, especially after flourishing with the Iowa Wild so far. If the top players continue to struggle, Rossi could be an asset in a top-six role.


    Adam Beckman is currently with the big club because Mats Zuccarello and Rem Pitlick remain unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols. Still, he's not in a role that allows him to make a statement. Fiala never seems to get the best linemates and should be given an opportunity to play with Beckman. However, the Wild will likely send Beckman down when Zuccarello and Pitlick come back.


    The Wild's depth has been doing yeoman's work so far this season. Hartman and Foligno are flourishing offensively. Their eight goals account for almost 30% of the team's total. While it reinforces how deep this team is, Minnesota will eventually have to rely on Kaprizov and Fiala to drive the offense.


    The Wild don't want to fix something that isn't broken. The next half-dozen games will be essential to see how the top players respond to their dominant performance.


    Waiting until the end of the season to utilize their top prospects may not be the best strategy if the Wild's top forwards continue struggling. It could be the spark the team needs to get back on track. As for the stars, there shouldn't be any concerns. It's still early in the season. There was a ton of roster changes in the offseason, so players could still be adjusting. Maybe it takes just one great game against the Senators to get things rolling like they did last year.


    All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and Hockey-Reference.

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