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The Minnesota Wild are in an identity crisis. They sit near the playoffs, but not comfortably in (losing in the play-in round to Vancouver most recently). Minnesota is sort of rebuilding, but they aren’t in bad enough shape to need a full tank-style rebuild. GM Bill Guerin seems one day to be going for rebuild/retool style trades (Devan Dubnyk trade, Ryan Donato for a draft pick), but the next is acquiring players you normally would in a playoff push (Nick Bonino, Cam Talbot).
On the roster itself, a lot of the team’s identity and leadership has been shipped out recently. Jason Zucker was traded at the last deadline, Eric Staal was the Wild’s part of the Marcus Johansson trade, and lifer Mikko Koivu was left unsigned heading into free agency. There is a huge void to be filled in the leadership and team identity departments at this point.
Bill Guerin had a weird roster to work with when he took over for Paul Fenton, but Bill seems to know where he is going with this and I imagine eventually his moves will make some sense. I suspect a bit of clarity heading into the 2020-21 season as a handful of promising prospects look to grasp some of the newly opened roster spots. Something along the lines of a retool seems likely, by making the roster younger and faster with prospects and players like Kevin Fiala while exchanging the veteran leadership for players who still have a couple seasons of productive hockey left in them.
The 2019-20 Wild were a very average team. Slightly over .500 record, nearly even goal differential, close to 100% combined special teams, almost even shots per game differential. They were an offense by committee team, lacking anything in the top end, star talent department (Kevin Fiala led the team with 54 points) but they were productive well through the lineup with nearly all regular players hitting 20 points.
The answer to the lack of star power up front may be found in Marco Rossi or Kirill Kaprizov. Marco Rossi is a playmaking centre that can drive and control the play. Kirill Kaprizov is a goal scorer through and through. It could be that one of or the combination of the two provide the skillset to push the Wild’s offense back over the top.
Something else that had been holding the Wild back the last couple of seasons is the lackluster goaltending. Especially in 2019-20. Devan Dubnyk was one of the worst goalies in the league and performed so poorly that even the excellent defensive lineup iced by Minnesota couldn’t make him look good. This has been addressed by trading Dubnyk out and bringing in Cam Talbot. I say addressed and not solved because it is no guarantee that Cam Talbot is the answer. Talbot should be better than Dubnyk, but it is no hidden secret that Cam has had his share of struggles and inconsistency.
Minnesota Wild Roster Overview
As mentioned before, the Wild are lacking legit first line forwards and offensive star power. This means their first line is generally quite unimpressive. Kevin Fiala is exciting to watch and was producing quite well, but he was in a limited role and averaged about 15 minutes per game. With the team being weak at forward, he will be given more ice time at even strength this upcoming year. Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, and Marcus Johansson will be relied on as top-6 forwards. With Marco Rossi and Kirill Kaprizov ideally making the lineup, there should be a bit more of an offensive punch from these lines, and some great mentorship opportunities to play alongside experienced veterans.
Forward depth, however, is where the Wild shine. The solid and reasonably productive bottom-6, including Nick Bonino, Marcus Foligno, Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson-Ek, and Ryan Hartman. These players are solid defensively, can contribute offensively, and physically engaged to wear down opponents. The Wild can place a lot of faith in the reliability of these players to find ways to positively contribute.
They may not be the most flashy, but they are very effective. I’m also sensing a trend here with this roster.. At 35 years of age, Ryan Suter is still the leader and workhorse of Minnesota’s defense. He averages over 24 minutes per game, leads the defense in scoring (48 points in 69 games last season), and leads the team in point shares. Suter will continue to be played in this number one role as long as he is able to handle it.
Nipping at his heels right now is Jared Spurgeon. Recently signed to a 7-year, $7.575 million contract, Spurgeon is one of the league’s most underrated defenders right now. Spurgeon has been good for 30-40 points each of the last 5 seasons, he is averaging well over 20 minutes of ice time per game, and has quietly turned himself into a smooth and reliable defender.
Spurgeon and Suter were the most utilized defensive pairing last season for Minnesota, and why wouldn’t they when their defense is as solid as this team’s?
Another underrated defender on this roster is Jonas Brodin. He too, is a solid and reliable presence that the Wild have depended on for years. Brodin leads the team in blocked shots, in defensive point shares, and second on the team in +/- at +15.
Despite being the subject of serious trade rumours early in the offseason, Matt Dumba is still a member of the Minnesota Wild and will be back with Jonas Brodin, most likely.
Carson Soucy had a breakout year in 2019-20, finding his way into 55 games after spending 6 years developing in the NCAA and AHL. His performance was much appreciated on the Wild’s bottom pairing and he has carved out a place for himself in this lineup.
The downfall of last year’s Minnesota Wild will hopefully be serviceable at the very least in 2020-21. Cam Talbot is the team’s starting goalie from opening night. He had a bit of a redemption season in Calgary after a couple tough years in Edmonton and a forgettable stint in Philadelphia. But, now is his chance to prove himself and backstopping a team with as solid a defensive presence from its skaters as Minnesota is absolutely the place to do this.
Alex Stalock would have been Talbot’s backup, but it has been announced that Stalock will be out indefinitely with an upper body injury. In his absence, the Wild signed Andrew Hammond, and expect Kaapo Kahkonen to get an opportunity with the NHL team as Talbot’s backup.
Minnesota Wild 2020-21 Prediction
4th – 6th West Division
There might be a couple teams the Wild can push past if the closest competitors struggle again, but the Wild are a clear tier down from Colorado, Vegas, and St. Louis and I cannot foresee them breaking into that top group.
That concludes our Minnesota Wild 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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