Minnesota Wild: Season Outlook
When the Minnesota Wild host the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, January 19, it will be the most important regular season game in franchise history. The Wild faithful have been eagerly awaiting the end of the lockout perhaps more than any other fan base. Finally, they'll see Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in live action.
The opening night not only births a new era of Wild hockey, but also culminates “Hockey Day Minnesota,” an annual celebration of the game in the State of Hockey. Excitement is at an all time high. Thousands have already packed The Xcel Energy Center... for the team's first scrimmage.
The question is, will the Wild ride this optimism to challenge for the Stanley Cup this year? They certainly have the star quality to improve on last year's 12th place finish. Suter and Parise join a lineup that already includes Dany Heatley, the underrated Mikko Koivu, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard who appears to have finally conquered his concussion problem.
A nice collection of quality role players and respected veterans round out a solid forward group. The defense on the other hand, is as green as the Wild's home sweater. Suter brings with him a tremendous game and the ability to play 25 minutes a night. But he's played the last several years with Norris candidate Shea Weber. If young, but promising, d-man Jared Spurgeon struggles alongside Suter, the Wild may not have enough time to adjust in the short season.
It helps to have consistent goaltending to cover any defensive lapses. Josh Harding and incumbent Nicklas Backstrom form a formidable duo where each can steal games when called upon. They may just have to do so to keep the Wild afloat as the new players get acclimated.
Speaking of new players, GM Chuck Fletcher faces the difficult, albeit enviable, task of inserting a plethora of talented rookies into the lineup. Finnish Center Mikael Granlund, often described as the best player outside of the NHL, is already penciled into the second line. But winger Jason Zucker is still battling for a spot at the big club despite leading the AHL affiliate in scoring thus far this season.
Charlie Coyle is another highly touted forward who will struggle to break into the lineup. First rounder from 2012 Matt Dumba reportedly will start the season in St. Paul, but for how long? If he stays for six games, the first year of his rookie contract kicks in. If not, the team can ship him back to Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League and save the contract.
In all likelihood, Dumba will return to his junior team. It's difficult to assess what Fletcher will do with his young guns because the roster is laden with NHL veterans. In other words, the Wild would have to play a Coyle or a Zucker at the expense of guys like Darryl Powe and Torrey Mitchell. Expect Fletcher to ease his rookies into the lineup throughout the season. However, an injection of youth may dispel any struggles should the team falter out of the gate.
It's unfortunate that this season only consists of 48 games. The Minnesota Wild have a lineup capable of sustaining a postseason run, but can they come together in such a short period of time? Regardless, the future is quite bright in the upper Midwest.