Our Minnesota Wild 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
For more content, check out our weekly podcast where we cover the biggest storylines, trends, and memorable moments from around the NHL! And, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep up to date with our content and league happenings.
Minnesota was a fun team to watch last year. Why?
Dollar bill Kirill Kaprizov. Before the season, his debut was hyped up. He was a latecomer to the NHL at 23 years old, but his resume spoke for itself. In 293 KHL games he scored 230 points, and in the 2018 Olympics, as the youngest player on the Olympic Atheletes from Russia team, he scored in overtime for to win the tournament in the gold medal game. The rookie made a huge splash on the team, quickly jumping into the team lead in points. Overall, his impact can really not be understated on the team. He’s so much fun to watch and brings an excitement to the Wild that probably hasn’t been felt since Marian Gaborik was in his prime. Kaprizov finished the season as the team’s highest producer, with 51 points in 55 games. He earned the Calder Trophy for best rookie with 99 out of 100 first place votes. He really was the story of the season for the team, and this off season it looked like he might return to the KHL as he needed a new contract extension. However, the team was able to reach a deal with Kirill and he locked in with a monster contract of $9 million for 5 years.
Beyond the thrill of watching Kaprizov, Minnesota actually had a pretty great year. They really surprised a lot of people by being so competitive. Kaprizov definitely helped carry that lift, but he didn’t do it alone. There are quite a few players on the team that had career years in a lot less games played. Joel Eriksson Ek popped off for 19 goals, more than doubling his previous career high of 8. He really seemed to develop a scoring touch for the team last season, and it really made him look like more of a complete player. He’s always had the defensive game down, and now with the offense he fit nicely into the top two line centre positions. Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno also had career years, with 32 and 26 points respectively. Even Viktor Rask looked to have life again, after only earning 13 points with Minnesota in 2019-2020, he earned 23 this season. Head Coach Dean Evason, who took over mid way through the previous season, had really found a way to have the Wild play together like a team in his first full season. They finished with a 35-16-5 record and 75 points, good for 3rd in the West Division. They were good at scoring goals, with 181 total scored which places them 8th in the league.
Where did the team struggle? Their powerplay was only 17.6% effective which was 24th in the league. If they had found a groove on the man advantage they really could have been a much more dominant team. They also struggled a little to stop goals against with 160 against, placing them at 15th. So pretty average in that regard. Their penalty kill was good but not great at 80.8% for 12th in the league.
The team entered playoffs as 3rd in the west and were rewarded with facing the Vegas Golden Knights in round one. It was a series where most picked Vegas to win in four or five, but Minnesota fought and made it a hell of a series. They pushed Vegas to seven games, and were eventually knocked out in a disappointing game seven. It gave fans a taste and with the people wanting more.
Besides Kirillgate 2021, waiting to see if he would re-sign with the team, the biggest story of the offseason for the team was the buyouts of both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Both of the veterans had their offensive point totals fall of a cliff completely. Parise had his points per game go from 0.66 in 2019-2020 to just 0.40 in 2020-2021. He fell from 46 points in 69 games to just 18 points in 45 games. Ryan Suter who has always contributed offensively from the blue line saw his points per game go from 0.69 in 2019-2020 to 0.33 this past season. His points dropped from 48 in 69 games to 19 in 56 games. While still valuable veterans in the lineup, they were clearly being used in diminished roles with less overall impact on the game. The two had signed identical 13 year contracts in 2012 for $7.5 million per year. Clearly with the production they now had, they weren’t living up to it and with both of them in their mid 30s, having to eat that until the end of the 2024-25 season didn’t sit well with fairly new general manager Bill Guerin. So, he bought them out. While this provides cap relief now, in 2022-2025 the team will have a dead weight of $12.7-14.7 million from that buyout. That’s New York Rangers levels of dead cap space. I get they needed space for Kaprizov’s deal, but that’s really going to limit what the team can do during Kaprizov’s prime.
So what else did the team do this off season?
- Alex Goligoski
- Dmitry Kulikov
- Frederick Gaudreau
- Jordie Benn
- Jon Merrill
- Ryan Suter
- Zach Parise
- Nick Bonino
- Carson Soucy
- Marcus Johansson
- Ian Cole
The Wild lost a few depth pieces in Parise, Bonino and Johannson. But they are well equipped to absorb the loss. They brought in Freddy Gaudreau to fit into the bottom six, and they have guys like Ryan Hartman, Nick Bjugstad, and Nico Sturm to take up permanent roster spots. Nico Sturm had himself a nice season last year providing a solid bottom six option for centre. They actually have a lot of options for bottom six centres, with Hartman, Bjugstad, Sturm, Gaudreau, Kyle Rau, Joseph Cramarossa all able to play centre.
Matthew Boldy, the 12th overall pick in the 2019 draft also plays centre. At 20 years old he could make his debut this season. He is not returning to college, so will be playing professional hockey this year. Will he get a chance with the NHL squad or play the year in Iowa in the AHL? Depends on his camp and how the season progresses. Another promising young centreman that could debut this season is Marco Rossi, the 9th overall pick from 2020. Rossi had a particularly nasty bout with Covid last year causing him to lose an entire season of development. He’s apparently ready to make the jump this season, but I think he’ll likely be in conditioning in the minors before he makes his NHL debut.
Boldy and Rossi playing centre is particularly relevant because in the top six centre strength on the Wild isn’t the best. They’ll be relying upon Joel Eriksson Ek centring his usual linemates of Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno. He’ll have to play like he did last season instead of every season before. In the second centre spot Viktor Rask will need to really keep some chemistry with Kaprizov and Zuccarello. It would be awesome to see Kaprizov playing with Boldy or Rossi at some point this season just to see what they could do. The Wild definitely would do well to upgrade their true number one centre to play with Kaprizov.
The most interesting piece of the lineup is going to be Kevin Fiala. He was second on the team with 40 points in 50 games last season and led the team in powerplay points. The guys he played the most with at even strength were Marcus Johansson and Ryan Hartman. Because of the great chemistry that Kaprizov and Zuccarello had, Fiala got limited looks playing with the other top end forward on the team. If Fiala can put up those numbers on a powerplay as bad as Minnesota’s was, and with linemates like he had, he could put up great numbers on a fulltime line with Kaprizov.
The team lost half of their top six defenseman from last season. Suter, Soucy and Cole all left town. The only intact d pairing from last season is Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba. Say hello to the new number one pairing. These guys will be relied on every night, and they’ll be up to the task.
Jared Spurgeon as the other lone survivor will be matched with a new partner this season, likely Alex Goligoski. On Arizona last year, Goligoski managed to be a +2 and earn 19 points in 56 games, which puts him at about career average in point production. He should fit in nicely on the team, and as a Minnesota born guy, I think he’ll relish the opportunity.
The third pairing will be completely new for the team. Right now it looks like Dmitry Kulikov and Jordie Benn. There won’t be much offense here, but they might just be able to hold their own against some weaker forward lines. The top two pairings will really be relied upon to eat minutes.
Young defender Calen Addison could really push Jordie Benn into the 7th defenseman spot too. He only played in 3 NHL regular season games, but also appeared in 3 playoff games.
The team has the same tandem as last season. Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen. They both played quite well actually. Talbot was the definite 1A of the mix with 33 starts, 19 wins, a .915 save percentage and a 2.63 goals against average. Kahkonen had himself in calder discussion early but his stats dropped a bit. He finished his rookie season with 23 starts, 16 wins, a .902 save percentage and a 2.88 goals against average.
The team also drafted a very promising goaltender prospect Jesepr Wallstedt in the 2021 draft at 20th overall. He won’t see action this season, but he’s likely the goalie of the future in town.
If the goaltenders can make timely saves and keep the score low, the offense can provide the run support necessary once again to win games.
Minnesota Wild 2021-22 Prediction
Minnesota should be a playoff team. They were able to retain Kirill Kaprizov, and replace the defensive depth they lost early in the off season. With some promising young players perhaps making their debuts this season, they should still have the offense required to win games. Their defensive lineup has a solid top four that can and will be relied upon to keep the goals against down. They have some questions to answer at centre and need to work on their special teams but despite all this, they should be able to make a push for a divisional playoff spot or a wild card entry into playoffs. If they get into playoffs expect them to make it an interesting series, no matter who they face.
Thanks for reading our Minnesota Wild 2021-22 Preview. Want to find more previews? Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2021-22 Season Preview Series.
Did you know we have a podcast? Click here to head to our episodes feed and see where you can listen to us talk hockey!