As the NHL season is now less than a month away, we continue our look at each team’s offseason and preview the upcoming year. Today, we focus on the Minnesota Wild.
Last Season: 38-33-11 record (87 points), 5th in the Central Division. Lost 4-2 to Dallas in Round 1.
Remaining Cap Space: $2.1MM as per Cap Friendly
Key Departures: RW Justin Fontaine (PTO, Florida), RW David Jones (free agency, unsigned), C Chris Porter (PTO, St. Louis), C Jarret Stoll (PTO, Columbus), Head Coach John Torchetti (was the interim coach last season), RW Thomas Vanek (buyout, Detroit)
[Related: Wild Depth Chart from Roster Resource]
Player to Watch: C Mikael Granlund: Over the last three seasons, Granlund has been a quality secondary player but has yet to take that next big step forward into a true core piece for the franchise. On the international stage, he is routinely one of Finland’s go-to players but he hasn’t been consistent enough to be one regularly in Minnesota.
With a new coach and system (more on that momentarily), the chance is there for Granlund to take those next steps and become a core player up front. If he needs any more motivation, he’s heading into the second and final year of a bridge deal that carries a salary of $3.2MM and a cap hit of $3MM. This is his big chance to prove that he’s worthy of a long-term, big money contract, not to mention a bigger role on the team.
He may have to spend some time on the wing this season (with Mikko Koivu and newcomer Eric Staal also at center) but if he does, he should at least still be in a top six role on a regular basis. The opportunity is there for Granlund; can he take advantage of it?
Key Storyline: The Wild have historically been known as a defense-first team dating back to the days of Jacques Lemaire as head coach. Even in recent years with different coaches behind the bench, that still has been the case as the team has finished in the top half in NHL scoring just once since Lemaire left following the 2008-09 campaign.
Expect things to be different with Bruce Boudreau behind the bench. His teams have a penchant for being in the top-10 in goals scored and he preaches more of an up-tempo system, something Minnesota hasn’t utilized much in recent years. Will that style of play help get veteran players like Staal, Zach Parise, and Jason Pominville back to the numbers they have shown themselves to be capable of producing? If that happens without hurting the team too much at the defensive end while youngsters like Granlund and Nino Niederreiter continue to improve, this is a team capable of surprising in the West.