It’s understandable that the passionate Minnesota Wild fan base may be growing impatient as the offseason splash that was made hasn’t generated the instant results in the Win/Loss column that was expected, but not to worry, this club has a huge upside.
No team suffered more from the lockout than the Minnesota Wild and their brand new roster. The epicenter of this squad is a bunch of rookies surrounded by very few veterans that have donned the Wild sweater before this season. With only 6 days of playing together in training camp, the Wild got off to a disappointing start but they seemed poised to turn the corner Thursday night in Edmonton. Thursday night the Wild showed me something that I’ve rarely seen under Coach Mike Yeo: They shot the puck! Over the past couple of years the Wild have struggled to put the puck on net and create the garbage goals. This team just needs to shoot the puck and grow on a consistent basis, and they’ll be there in May.
The Wild have had trouble scoring at times throughout the season, but the drought really began when Mike Yeo split up the top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Dany Heatley; having Heatley play on the second line while rookie Charlie Coyle took his spot on the top line. At the beginning of the season I will admit that I was skeptical of Heatley playing on a line where he wasn’t going to be the star, but i was wrong, this works. There is not a whole lot Parise does wrong, he plays both ways, he’s great on the forecheck, his shot is deadly accurate, and most importantly for Heatley, he’s going to create plays and make his line mates better. Heatley may be on a slump right now, but he’s too good of a talent not to flourish on this line, he has multiple 50 goal seasons, he’ll come around. Koivu and Parise are going to create the plays, but Heatley’s the guy that’s going to crash the net and get the dirty goals. Give this line time and they’ll make some noise.
The buzz around the league when it comes to the Wild is all about the free agent acquisitions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but this club draws from the fountain of youth. Rookie Jason Zucker has made an instant impact on the morale of this hockey team in just two games this season. Zucker has the ‘shoot first’ mentality that this team has lacked in recent years, leading the AHL in shots on goal before being promoted to the Wild for these past two games and beyond. He buried one in his season debut to help beat the Detroit Red Wings at home. Zucker’s been great, but Jonas Brodin deserves the spotlight when it comes to rookies on the Wild. Jonas Brodin has played on the Wild’s top pairing with Ryan Suter and is second among rookies in ice time. He hasn’t bowed down to the big boys, playing a key role in the Wild net minders having such a low Goals Against Average. Darcy Kuemper isn’t half bad either, the rookie goaltender has turned away 57 of the 61 shots he’s faced in his two games playing with the big boys, giving him a .934 save percentage to go along with a 2.02 GAA. Aside from Brodin, Zucker, and Kuemper, the Wild also have Mikael Granlund who was much anticipated by Wild fans going into this season but hasn’t exactly lived up to his potential, as well as highly anticipated prospects Johan Larsson, Zach Phillips, Charlie Coyle, and Matt Dumba who give the Wild arguably the best farm system in hockey. With seasoned veterans as well as youngsters with mouth-watering promise, this team has a bright future as they continue to mesh.
A few players that I haven’t really mentioned but deserve recognition are Ryan Suter, who after a rough start to the season now has five points in his last six games, and Niklas Backstron, who’s boasting a 2.28 GAA and a .917 save percentage this season. These two, along with Jonas Brodin are keeping the puck out of the net as the forwards continue to come together. This squad is definitely on the rise.