Season Preview: Minnesota
By Spike Coffman, TheFourthPeriod.com
the lockout ruined the start of the NHL season, if there was one team that
everyone wanted to see this year and it was the new look Minnesota Wild.
The new additions of top free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise will make the
Wild a free-skating, offensive, attack-first team, something that is not usually
seen out of the Wild franchise, which has mostly been known as a defense first
The Wild had to make a bold move as the team scored only 177 goals last season,
which was worst in the NHL.
On offense, the biggest addition was Parise, but the Wild have a very strong
top-six. The Wild will still be led by captain Mikko Koviu, who had a solid
season despite only playing 55 games last year. Devin Setoguchi will have be a
bigger part of the offense and he may get more chances this year as the focus
being put on Koivu and Parise may leave extra time for Setoguchi to return to
the 30-goal season he had four seasons ago in San Jose. Mikael Granlund will be
making his NHL debut this year after spending the last couple of years in
Finland after being drafted in 2010. Granlund could easily be a finalist for the
Calder Trophy and has a point-per-game average in the AHL this season. Matt
Cullen will be an optimal third line center as his leadership and skill will be
a huge advantage down the middle.
Just as the forwards start with Parise, Suter will lead the defense for
Minnesota. Suter will be the veteran on a very young Wild defense. Tom Gilbert,
who came over in the trade for Nick Schultz, will be the second most senior
defenseman on the team. It will be important for Gilbert to take the next step
in Minnesota, one of which many seem to think he didn't take in Edmonton. The
players who may benefit most from Suter are Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella.
Spurgeon will be in his second full season in the NHL and has had impressive
numbers so far in his short time. Scandella will be in his third pro-season
after splitting time the last two between Minnesota and Houston. Both Spurgeon
and Scandella are offensive players who could benefit from learning under Suter.
Two guys who will help the young defense of Minnesota will be the experience of
the goaltending tandem behind them. Niklas Backstrom is one of the most
underrated goalies in the league and will continue to put up strong numbers.
Plus, Backstrom is in the last year of a multi-year deal, which may be a
catalyst behind an even better season. Behind Backstrom is Josh Harding, who
could be a starting goalie if he was on another team. Harding was diagnosed with
multiple sclerosis over the off-season has been training regularly during the
lockout and expects to be back once the regular-season starts. Harding is one of
the most humble and courageous members of the NHL. His charity work with breast
cancer awareness and helping out families of the Minnesota bridge disaster in
2007 has raised thousands of dollars. If there is anyone to root for this
season, it's Josh Harding.
If the Minnesota Wild can spread the offensive around, they'll be a very tough
team to beat. The Wild has evolved into a pretty dangerous group, thanks in
large part to the additions of Parise and Granlund. They should be able to make
their way well into post-season play, but ultimately it'll come down to
Backstrom's performance. If the veteran netminder can stay on his head all
season, Minnesota could be in for an interesting ride come spring.
3 Players to Watch
One player that could have a huge influence this year for the Wild is Dany
Heatley, but will this be his last season in Minnesota? With the amnesty buyout
and the salary cap being lowered to $64.3 million next season, the Wild will
have to drop some cap space, and it may start with Heatley's $7.5 million
hit. Regardless, he will need to improve on last season's performance as he
only scored 24 times in 82 games, which was his worst total in a full
Bouchard will be a key contributor to the offense if he can avoid another
concussion. Bouchard chipped in with 22 points in 37 games in the short
period of time that he came back last season.
He's waiting a long time to crack the NHL squad, and it's finally time to
shine. Granlund will be the Wild's second-line center this season, and
they're expecting big things from him. While the opposition will try to stop
the team's first line, Granlund might be in line for a big season.