January 4, 2018 | 7:01pm ET
By Nick Maxson, The Fourth Period
WILD FINALLY PLAYING WITH A FULL DECK
Zach Parise, left wing
ST. PAUL, MN -- There is a proverb that says it’s never too late to start fresh. The Minnesota Wild may be the walking definition of this verse as they look to play their first game with a healthy lineup.
The injury bug has bitten the hockey club hard this year, something the team avoided last season. Zach Parise made his season debut Tuesday in a 5-1 win against Florida recording 15 minutes of ice time. He did not register a point in his return, but his presence appeared to have sparked a dull hockey team.
The victory against the Panthers was arguably the best full-game effort the team has shown all season and reminded those in the hockey world that the club is as every bit as dangerous when healthy.
Nino Niederreiter is expected to return Thursday putting the Wild at full strength from injury.
Struggles were abundant while the club battled through injuries; the Wild never looked consistent and have yet to show that they can put in an effort night-in and night-out. Does this fall on Wild GM Chuck Fletcher? It may sound like a silly question, but is it fair to place blame on where the Wild currently sit? Yes, but with a few asterisks.
To be clear, injuries plague every team in the National Hockey League and he has no accountability there, but he does share responsibility to the roster makeup and organizational depth.
When Fletcher took over the team from Doug Risebrough, his first order of business was to build what he described as a depleted youth talent pool. During his tenure, Fletcher has favored veteran players over unproven youth and if you ask any Minnesota fan about Nick Leddy, they certainly shake their heads every time they hear his name. The knowledgeable folks in the State of Hockey watched him grow in Eden Prairie and emerge into what they could see as a future impactful defenseman. Fletcher traded Leddy to Chicago for defenseman Cam Barker before he ever donned a Wild sweater in what would soon prove to be one of his worse trades.
Most recently he had to part ways with forward Alex Tuch during the expansion draft to allow the franchise to secure Nino Neiderreiter and Mikael Granlund. Lest we forget the Wild also lost Marco Scandella to accomplish the same goal.
Why does this all matter? Minnesota is no better shape in their talent pipeline than before Fletcher started, however fans should not break out the pitchforks just yet.
Fletcher recently made a trip to Moscow to meet with prospect Kirill Kaprizov and another Russian prospect for the first time with their agents and had what is being described as constructive talks.
Kaprizov is in the first year of a three-year deal that will keep him in Russia until 2020 and there is little chance that he comes before then.
Owner Craig Leipold has said that it is Stanley Cup or bust this season for Minnesota and it certainly looks very possible that Fletcher is on the hot seat.
Minnesota has made the playoffs the last six seasons, a remarkable feat in a league where there is not much that separates the team that raises the cup to the group that doesn’t see any playoff hockey. Despite that success the organization has not delivered a championship and has not made it past the second round.
This group has 41 games to make a push towards the post-season and now with everyone available to contribute this team can now find consistency and repeat the same success it has last year during the regular-season.
It is a fresh start for an organization that may have a few more in the very near future.