2014-15 NHL Season Preview: Minnesota Wild

Thomas Vanek Minnesota Wild

The following is a guest post from Minnesota Wild fan Tony Abbott.

Offseason Overview

The most significant acquisition the Wild had in the offseason is that of Thomas Vanek. A combination of Vanek’s pseudo-Minnesota roots (he was a former Golden Gopher) and his stock completely tanking in his postseason run with Montreal led Wild GM Chuck Fletcher to sign him to a team-friendly 3 year, 19.5 million dollar deal. Vanek has his detractors, he’s not a possession-driver and he’s had questions about his effort, but the Austrian Übermensch brings a crucial skill to the table. The Wild are full of two-way players, in Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, and Jason Pominville. What they didn’t have last season is someone who can score easy goals, which Vanek can definitely do. Any deficiencies in his game should be cancelled out by how skilled he is, and the strengths of his teammates.

Speaking of Heatley, he departed this offseason. So did Matt Moulson, Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser, Cody McCormick, and Mike Rupp. Out of all those players, only Moulson will be missed, despite many Wild fans being disappointed by his injury-hampered playoff run. As for the rest, the only element that the Minnesota Wild lost is “toughness”, which in this writer’s opinion, is fairly overrated.

In terms of other additions in the off-season, Jordan Schroeder and Michael Keränen are interesting names. Schroeder was a top prospect that was let go by Vancouver, and Keränen led the SM-Liiga (Finnish Elite League) in scoring last season. Both signings were really low-risk, and both could compete for a spot on a scoring third-line for the Wild this season.


As stated before, the Minnesota Wild have a great group of two-way forwards. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu are among the best defensive forwards in the league, and Jason Pominville also drives possession. In addition to their veteran core, they’ve also got young forwards in Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, and Charlie Coyle, who had good seasons last year, and have yet to reach their potential.

It’ll be fascinating to see how the bottom-6 shakes out for the Wild. With Erik Haula and Kyle Brodziak at center, the Wild have a foundation to roll four lines consistently. Even more intriguing, the Wild could easily run three scoring lines.

(Zucker/Keränen) – Haula – Coyle

Matt Cooke – Brodziak – Brett Bulmer

Those could possibly be the Wild’s third and fourth lines, and with even more NHL-ready depth in Tyler Graovac, Raphael Bussieres, and Kurtis Gabriel in the minors, the Wild have a depth advantage up front that could prove significant.


While the Wild have depth at forward, it lacks depth on their blue line. Fortunately, the Wild should have a strong Top-4 this season. Ryan Suter’s first two seasons as a Wild have been fine, but his offensive production has suffered with overuse, as he routinely played 30+ minutes last season. The Wild are going to have to find a way to reduce his minutes. Jared Spurgeon is one of the league’s hidden treasures, driving possession and scoring at a rate that was comparable to Matt Niskanen. Marco Scandella was given very tough minutes on the Wild, and he did well in a shutdown role, which makes his offensive numbers more impressive than they initially seem. Jonas Brodin struggled in his sophomore season, but his rookie season was so stellar that it’s reasonable to think he will adjust.

The third pairing is critical, as the players playing there will determine whether Suter will be able to play a reasonable amount of minutes, or be over-worked yet again. The only veteran option of note is Keith Ballard, which is unfortunate, as Ballard is now four seasons removed from his last good season. Justin Falk has experience in the NHL, so he may get a look in camp, but he’s replacement-level at best.

The best hope for the Wild’s defense is that one of their young defensemen impress in camp. Christian Folin was signed last year as a college free agent from U-Mass Lowell, and is big, mobile, and has a huge shot. He’s the closest of the prospects to being a lock on this team. The Wild has wanted to get Dumba in the AHL for a long time (Junior players can’t play in the AHL until their Age-20 season), but a camp where the dynamic defenseman inspires confidence in his defensive play may force their hand. The best-case scenario for the Wild is both players play well enough to force their way to the ice.


For the entire offseason, the Wild had Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom under contract, squeezing arguably their best, most reliable goaltending options to the minors. Josh Harding eradicated this logjam by kicking a wall and fracturing his ankle, and things are much more clear: This is Kuemper’s job to lose. The 24-year-old saved the Wild’s season last year, almost single-handedly taking an injured team that was spiraling out of control and carrying them to the playoffs. The Wild are hoping that in Kuemper they have their own James Reimer or Braden Holtby.

If Kuemper doesn’t grab the job, or won’t be able to start 60+ games, Niklas Backstrom has been a reliable goalie who would do well in a backup role if he can get over his injury-plagued season. Ilya Bryzgalov is also with the Wild on a Player Tryout, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Fletcher signed Bryz to a deal as an insurance policy.


I think that there is a possibility that the Wild miss the playoffs, but it’s very low. This team relies very heavily on the play of Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, and they’ve responded poorly in recent years when those two have been injured, their third-pairing could realistically fizzle, and their goaltenders are either unproven or injury-prone.

I think the high-end of this Wild team’s potential is a Western Conference Finals appearance, barring an acquisition of an experienced, skilled defender to make a reliable third-pairing.

Most likely, we see a season much like last year, where the Wild make the playoffs, have a competitive series or two, and leave you drooling over what might happen once Granlund, Niederreiter, Coyle, Brodin, and Dumba fully mature.

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