There are high expectations in The Gopher State for the Minnesota Wild to reach the playoffs once again, as they have done the previous three years. However, has the team done enough to excel them past their Achilles Heel, the Conference Semifinals and moreover the Chicago Blackhawks who have eliminated the Wild the past three years? Here is a look at the organizational framework of the club, and the associated grade based on the the respective category.
While the brass did not go after a highly-touted free agent or make a blockbuster trade, they did what they needed to do, and that’s keep the team that had success last year together. In an article by Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, GM Chuck Fletcher stated he sees the importance of infusing the roster at the NHL with youth, this is what he said,
On the Wild’s youngsters like Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, etc, Fletcher said, “there’s no sense boxing these young kids out, they’re ready. They all deserve an opportunity to grab more ice time and get a bigger share of the pie.”
However, Fletcher has some work to do with very limited cap space to address the issue that the future of the Minnesota Wild in Jordan Schroeder, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba are all in line to become RFAs after the season.
Coach Mike Yeo remains one of the youngest coaches in the league, but still has done a great job of leading his team to the playoffs in 3 out of the 4 years since he was appointed the bench boss in 2011. Yeo’s presence continues to be a good thing when it comes to developing talent, as his experience and success in the minor leagues seems to have carried over (Yeo has led coached teams to three Calder Cup appearances before getting a gig at the pro level) .
First and foremost, the Wild have a ton of money invested in their goaltenders, $9.0 million going into this upcoming to be exact which equates to 12.8% of their current cap hit (2nd highest at the position in the NHL). However even with this bring said, it was key for the team to resign Devan Dubnyk to a 6-year contract due to the fact that the free agent pool of goalies wasn’t strong this offseason and the fact that Niklas Backstrom is not only often plagued by injuries but also becomes a UFA after the 2015-2016 season.
The Wild have a great mixture of veterans and youth when it comes to the forward department, as the team’s top-earning forward foursome of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville should provide the mentor-ship needed to help the youngsters on the team grow. Speaking of youth, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Schroeder and Jason Zucker should contribute even more in this upcoming season which should help the team improve on their meager 2.77 Goals/Per Game (12th in NHL) and 15.8% Power Play C0nversion (27th) numbers from last season.
The defense was great last season allowing only 2.42 Goals Against/Per Game (6th in NHL), and should do a good job on the backend again next season as little change has been made. While Ryan Suter is the leader on the blueline, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba should build on their 2014-2015 season and gain more TOI in the process.
Despite a trade to clear up space, it may be tough to add a rental if the Wild are in the playoff hunt come late February as the Wild only have $1.995 million in cap space as it stands right now. What does this mean? It means they will have to make this roster work.
While guys like Christian Folin and Mike Reilly are in line to make the opening day roster, the Wild’s depth in the farm system is becoming depleted. The organization lacks a prospect with “elite” talent, as Hockey’s Future rates the newest prospect to the franchise, Joel Eriksson Ek, the most highly-touted skater. Eriksson Ek was the Wild’s first round selection in this year’s Entry Draft and looks to be a key offensive contributor down the road as he excelled in the U20/U18 tournaments for Sweeden. However, down the road is a far ways away as he is only 18 years old and must adjust to the style of play in North America. The other problem that lays in the Wild’s farm system is the lack of depth at the winger position. In this regards, 2014 first-round pick Alex Tuch has the makings of a scoring, two-way power forward, but it is still up in the air whether he will need all four years of college eligibility to hone his game.
Young players, young coach and similar faces out on the ice. Can that combination for success work again for the Wild in the competitive Central Division? Only time will tell.
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