2014/15 Season Preview – Minnesota Wild

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b9/NHL_2010_Face_Off_Hurricanes_%40_Wild_in_Helsinki.jpg/800px-NHL_2010_Face_Off_Hurricanes_%40_Wild_in_Helsinki.jpg

2013/14 Season Record – 7th in Western Conference, 4th in Central Division

W

L OT PTS

GOAL DIFF.

43 27 12 98

+1

2013/14 Season Recap

The Wild showed a marked improvement in their ability to possess the puck during the early part of the season, but were derailed by injuries to Koivu, Parise and Spurgeon before the Olympics. Luckily, their goaltending was phenomenal all year, even when the team wasn’t.

After trading for Matt Moulson at the deadline, the team finished strongly and ended up grabbing a Wildcard spot. They beat the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 OT, before playing very well in a 6-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the next round.

Projected Roster

LW C RW
ZACH PARISE MIKAEL GRANLUND JASON POMINVILLE
THOMAS VANEK MIKKO KOIVU NINO NIEDERREITER
JASON ZUCKER ERIK HAULA CHARLIE COYLE
MATT COOKE KYLE BRODZIAK JUSTIN FONTAINE

 

LD RD
RYAN SUTER JARED SPURGEON
MARCO SCANDELLA JONAS BRODIN
KEITH BALLARD CHRISTIAN FOLIN

 

G
JOSH HARDING
NIKLAS BACKSTROM

 

EXTRAS
DARCY KUEMPER
JONOTHON BLUM
CODY ALMOND

 Top Call-Up Options

Forward JORDAN SCHROEDER/BRETT BULMER
Defense MATTHEW DUMBA
Goal JOHAN GUSTAFSSON

Top Prospects

  1. MATTHEW DUMBA
  2. ALEX TUCH
  3. MARIO LUCIA

Key Additions

  • Thomas Vanek
  • Jordan Schroeder
  • Michael Keranen

Key Subtractions

  • Clayton Stoner
  • Nate Prosser
  • Matt Moulson
  • Cody McCormick
  • Dany Heatley

Roster Thoughts

Forwards

The Wild have the best forward depth they’ve ever had going into next season. This time last year the group was bogged down with non-entities like Dany Heatley, Zenon Konopka and Mike Rupp. Now they’ve subtracted some bad players and replaced them with new signing Thomas Vanek and emerging young players such as Erik Haula, Jason Zucker, Justin Fontaine and Brett Bulmer.

With Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville, Zach Parise and Vanek surely locks for the top-6, that leaves one spot left for Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle to fight over. That’s the kind of good problem the Wild have rarely had.

The Wild don’t score many goals, but are extremely sound defensively. Vanek will be expected to improve their poor goal totals, with Pominville, Parise and Niederreiter providing back-up. Koivu will be dominant at both ends of the ice and they’ll be relying on him and Mikael Granlund to do the playmaking. Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke will have major defensive assignments, while Haula’s line could be used to target softer match-ups. Cody Almond will provide some 4th line truculence after returning from Switzerland.

Defencemen

The defence will feature the same top-4 as last season; Suter, Brodin, Scandella and Spurgeon, but has shed Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser, two players who made the whole group a lot worse last season. The 3rd pairing is a bit of a question mark for next season with youngster Christian Folin expected to play on the right side with, oft-injured veteran, Keith Ballard alongside him. Ballard was unconvincing last year, but the other option is another right-hander, Jon Blum.

Scandella will likely continue to take major defensive assignments, likely with Brodin while Suter and Spurgeon will play heavy minutes on the top pairing against the other team’s best lines. Spurgeon and Scandella both provided solid even strength offence and Suter was okay last year, but the rest of the group was disappointing offensively. Folin might provide a spark in that area, as will Blum if he plays more.

Overall, the Wild need more from Suter in terms of driving possession, as his results have been underwhelming, and Brodin needs to get back to his 2013 form.

Goalies

This group is hugely unpredictable. Even though Darcy Kuemper did well last season after being called up when Backstrom and Harding were unavailable, he will likely be a part of a 3-man rotation due to the aforementioned pair being unmovable due to Backstrom’s contract and Harding’s MS.

Backstrom was excellent in 2012, but hasn’t been good since and has trouble staying healthy. Harding was average overall before last season, when he was one of the best in the league. It’s unlikely he repeats that level of performance and even unlikelier he doesn’t miss time due to his MS. Also, Kuemper might take a step back after being so amazing last season in a small sample. There’s a whole pile of question marks about the Wild’s goaltending, and this whole situation is a mess.

Key Player:

Thomas Vanek

The Wild don’t take enough shots and therefore don’t score enough goals. Vanek has been signed to reverse their fortunes in both regards. If he can turn the passing ability of Mikko Koivu or Mikael Granlund into a mountain of goals, then the Wild stand far more of a chance of going deep in the playoffs.

2014/15 Expectations:

I think the Wild will finish 4th in the Central Division behind Chicago, St. Louis and Dallas, but will take the 1st Wildcard spot in the playoffs and win one round before exiting in the 2nd round again.

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