The second line was the difference maker last season. If the second line wasnít creating offense, the squad was a one-line team, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Captains Koivu and Parise carried the offense for most of the season, other than the one long stretch Cullen and Setoguchi caught fire before Cullenís injury.
Then in the playoffs Koivu and Parise appeared to be worn down, as they were completely shutdown by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Itís also possible thatís just how good the Blackhawks were last season.
Setoguchi and Cullen are gone. One traded and the other they couldnít afford. No matter what lines veteran Dany Heatley, who will be coming back from season ending shoulder surgery, and Pominville start the season on, the second line will come down to the production of young kids.
Whether itís the competition between Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund for the second line center job, or Jason Zucker proving he can be an 82-game second line left-winger, or trade acquisition Nino Niederreiter turning heads in camp; they will all have the opportunity to make the team out of camp and be difference makers this season.
Itíll be a tough decision for third year head coach Mike Yeo as he looks for his second line center. Coyle is coming off a very solid rookie season, but he played right wing the majority of the season with Koivu and Parise. Do they want to continue evolving Coyle into a premier right wing, or do they look at his size, strength and style and move him to his natural position, center?
Losing Cullen wasnít supposed to be a concern considering Granlund started last season as the second line center, but his roller coaster season kept him in Houston for the majority of his rookie campaign. Now, Granlund looks faster and stronger in this yearís camp, but he has a lot to prove early after not getting a sniff at the playoff lineup.
The Wild took a big risk with their fans by signing NHL villain Matt Cooke. Cooke has evolved into a third line player that can shutdown opposing teamís players stars and then add some offenseÖconsistently, but he will have to prove that to the Wild fans, the same fans that despised Cooke is his time with the Vancouver Canucks. Cooke will likely fill the void Clutterbuck leaves behind and can hopefully help center Kyle Brodziak have a bounce back year. This could be a major upgrade for Minnesota if Cooke can bring his playoff presence and consistency to their third line.
Key Losses: Bouchard, Clutterbuck, Cullen, Setoguchi
Key Additions: Cooke, Niederreiter, David Steckel
Top 3 Forwards to Watch
Nino Niederreiter: Niederreiterís time with the New York Islanders did not go as planned for either sides; he spent the majority of his rookie season on the Islanders fourth line or in the press box, then in his second season he wasnít invited to training camp; not usually how first round lottery picks are treated. Niederreiter will be given every opportunity to make the squad in training camp; his size and nose for the net makes him a possibility for any line, but itís highly doubtful he will be used on the fourth line instead of first line with the Wildís new AHL affiliate, Iowa Wild.
Jason Pominville: Pominville was on a scoring tear after joining the Wild and before his injury. Now with a summer, training camp and preseason to play with Koivu and Parise, his numbers could rise to career highs.
Charlie Coyle: Coyle evolved into one of the teamís most consistent forwards last season. He isnít always flashy, but when heís on the ice good things happen. Not many 21-year old players can play any position, on any line, power play and penalty kill; Coyle is the real deal.
And then thereís defense. Calder snub Jonas Brodin and Norris runner up Ryan Suter became one of the best defensive duos in the NHL last season. Suter led the NHL in ice time and Brodin led all rookies, but they will look to use Brodin more and Suter a tad less. Good luck using Suter less.
Fletcher signed another former Canuck, Keith Ballard, to a two-year, $3 million deal to replace their summer compliance buyout, defenseman Tom Gilbert, who had an injury riddled final season with Minnesota.
Then itís back to the youth for Yeo; along with relying on the 20-year old Brodin more, theyíll look for Marco Scandella to finally become an accountable every day NHL defenseman. Scandella played all five games in the playoffs against the Blackhawks, but his lack of consistency from night to night causes concern on their back end.
One thing is clear; their most valuable player is Suter who can hide a lot of weaknesses by staying on the ice for more than half the game. Suter will wear a visor this season for the first time in the NHL.
Key Losses: Justin Falk
Key Additions: Ballard, Jonathon Blum
3 Defensemen to Watch
Jonas Brodin: Brodin had a fantastic rookie campaign, but his offensive statistics kept him from winning the Calder Trophy. He had a good amount of third assists that donít show up on the stats sheet and at 20 years old, thereís a few years for his offensive game to grow. Once the assists and goals start piling up, watch out NHL.
Matthew Dumba: The easiest comparison for Dumba would be Norris Trophy winner, PK Subban. Heís flashy, can shoot a rocket and has dangerous speed, but at only 19 years old, how many times can the Wild strike gold with teenage defensemen?
Marco Scandella: The 6-foot 2 inches defenseman will be noticed one way or another, and if the Wild are going to get off to a good start this season, Scandella has to be at the top of his game.
Niklas Backstrom resigned this summer for 3 years, $10.25 million. Backstrom went down with an injury in the warm ups before game one of their first playoff game. Backstrom played nearly every game of the lockout season because backup goaltender Josh Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis midseason.
Backstromís new contract comes in at nearly half the rate of his last contract with the Wild; they might be young on the blue line, but nobody knows Minnesotaís pipes better than Backstrom.
Adding Pominville to the top power play could do big things over an 82-game season for Minnesota. Adding him to an already potent power play with Parise and Heatley, it could solve a lot of scoring deficiencies with the help of a successful power play.
Look for the Wild to utilize their youngsters on their second power play unit.
The acquisition of Cooke will have to help their penalty kill after losing Cullen and Clutterbuck, two of the Wildís top penalty killers. If they can find a couple solid penalty killers not named Parise and Koivu, itíll allow their top two forwards more ice time to create offense.
5th in West, 3rd in Central
The Wild have to find scoring depth on a nightly basis after finishing 22nd and dead last the past two years respectively. If the golden number is 215 goals in a season to make the playoffs, they will need players to have career years putting the biscuit in the basket.
The health of Backstrom in goal will be their number one concern, along with hoping Harding and Kuemper can be reliable enough to give Backstrom enough rest throughout the year.
NHL realignment will put the Wild in an entire new division other than the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche finished last place in the Western Conference last season, but have a new head coach, former goaltender Patrick Roy. Colorado drafted Nathan Mackinnon with the first pick in this summerís draft.
The Wild are now in a division with the defending champs and the team that ended their season last year, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The up and coming St. Louis Blues, who have three former Minnesota State High School League superstars: T.J. Oshie, David Backes and Jordan Leopold, also join Minnesota in the NHLís new Central Division.
The Wild will see plenty of Cullen, who signed with their new division foe, the Nashville Predators. The Predators finished second to last place in the West last season, but added a variety of new players this summer, including highly touted second overall pick Seth Jones.
Minnesota will also play against Setoguchi in the new division, who was acquired by their likely division rivals, the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets and Wild will both enjoy their new opponentsí locations; the two teams had the most travel in the NHL in their old divisions respectively.
Last but not least are the Dallas Stars, formerly the Minnesota North Stars. The Stars made a blockbuster trade this summer acquiring Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins.
David Brown is the Minnesota Correspondent for The Fourth Period.