As we continue through our season preview of the teams in the Central Division, it’s time to catch up with the teams that weren’t divisional foes last season. Next up are the Minnesota Wild, who might finally be an exciting team.
Last season: 35-16-5 (75 points), third place in West Division, lost in first round
Key losses: D Ryan Suter, F Zach Parise, F Nick Bonino, D Ian Cole
Key additions: D Alex Goligoski, D Jon Merrill, D Dmitry Kulikov, D Jordie Benn
The Wild surprised last season — not necessarily by being competitive, but by being exciting for the first time in what feels like forever. The Wild have often had good players — Parise and Suter had been with the team since 2012-13 — and a team good enough to make the playoffs regularly for several years, but often times, even the fans of the Wild felt like the team was meaningless.
All that changed last season with the addition of Kirill Kaprizov, one of the most dynamic players in the league. There was some concern about whether a Kaprizov deal would get done before training camp, but the star forward finally signed on Tuesday. His now $9 million annual cap hit makes Kaprizov one of the highest paid wingers in the league, but he seems worth it. His instant impact on the Wild was obvious and the team often maligned as the Mild finally have an electrifying game-changer on the roster.
Kaprizov wasn’t alone in pushing the Wild into the entertaining category, though. The continued progress of other young players such as Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, and Kevin Fiala also contributed. Eriksson Ek is growing well into his role as a No. 1 center, though the Wild will hope for a bit more offensive pop that just 0.54 point per game (about 44 in an 82-game season)/ Greenway cemented himself as a reliable and productive middle-six winger. The most productive of the three, Fiala flashed high-offensive skill to the tune of a 65-66 point pace in an 82-game season — not bad at all.
The Wild did lose some veteran forward depth as Zach Parise was bought out of the final four years of his 13-year, $98 million contract ($7.538 million AAV) and Nick Bonino walked in free agency. Although Parise was the more prolific player, Bonino’s loss might hit harder as it weakens the Wild’s shaky center depth. Down the middle, they still have Victor Rask and they signed Frederick Gaudreau, but neither inspire much confidence even if the former is coming off his best year in a while. However, their wings are still in good shape with top-six wingers in Mats Zuccarello and Marcus Foligno (the better Foligno, let’s be honest), and useful depth forwards in Ryan Hartman and Nick Bjugstad.
Most importantly, the Wild have some impressive, highly skilled prospects chomping at the bit to be in the NHL this season: 2019-first rounder (No. 12 overall) Matt Boldy and 2020-first rounder (No. 9) Marco Rossi. Both looked extremely sharp in the Prospect Showcase this past weekend, and if they play as well during training camp, the Wild will be hard pressed not to include them on the opening day roster.
The defensive group still looks solid. Suter was also bought out this off-season, but the Wild signed Alex Goligoski to alleviate that loss. Their top-four has Jared Spurgeon (criminally underrated), Jonas Brodin (one of the best defensive defensemen in the league), and Matt Dumba (progressed into a more well-rounded defender in recent years). The Wild added many options depth options in Jon Merrill, Dmitri Kulikov and Jordie Benn. 21-year old prospect Calen Addison could be in the conversation as well but that seems like a bit of a long shot with the veterans ahead of him.
Statistically, last season wasn’t particularly different for the Wild: they’ve often been an above average team in terms of expected goals share, primarily due to their shot quality suppression. They were a little weaker in xGF this season but still better than over half the league.
The foundation has been there for the Wild, but now with the right development from their young players and the addition of legitimate game-changers, the Wild that could finally have what it takes to push them beyond mediocrity within the next couple of years. And while that may not happen this year, the Wild should at least be exciting to watch.