As another season of hockey action looms, the Minnesota Wild remain a bubble team destined to fight for a wild card spot in April. The Central division is the toughest in the entire NHL, and competing with the likes of the Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, and Chicago Blackhawks is no easy feat.
Minnesota Wild 2016-17 Expectations
To crack the top three will likely require a team to reach the 100-point plateau. The Wild had a 38-33-11 record last season for 87 points and will need to find a way to reach 45 wins and turn those overtime loses to victories in order to see post-season play.
Who to Watch Up Front
The Wild will begin the 2016-17 season with a young but potentially dynamic forward line-up. Five forwards are under 25, and each will need to perform at a high level for the organization to succeed. Charlie Coyle had an impressive 42-point season last year with 21 goals and 21 assists. His point totals have consistently improved over the past three seasons and this year may be the first time he breaks 50 points. Mikael Granlund has been an assist machine for the Wild, having recorded 30 or more in three straight seasons. If he can find a way to hit the back of the net himself, a 50-point campaign is possible for him, too. Erik Haula had a breakout season in 2015-16 with 14 goals and 20 assists—a massive improvement on his 14 total points in 2014-15. His +21 rating also lead the team last season.
Who to Watch on the Blue Line
The defence in Minnesota is young, but is led by one of the best in the NHL, Ryan Suter. He is entering his twelfth season, but after a 51-point campaign last year, shows no signs of slowing down. Jared Spurgeon is entering his seventh NHL season and is the next most seasoned veteran on the blue line despite only being 26 years old. His 11 goals and 18 assists in 2015-16 were admirable, but he should become another point producer this year for the Wild. Lastly, 22-year-old Matt Dumba has signed a new contract and is ready to prove he deserved his payday. He should be the third member of the blue line in Minnesota to record 30 points this season. Dumba recorded 26 points last year.
Who Needs to Bounce Back
With a new season brings a fresh start. There are three players whose dip in production in recent seasons must be corrected.
Jason Pominville had a lacklustre season in 2015-16. He recorded 36 points, down 18 from the 54 he recorded in 2014-15. He needs to return to the 50-point player the Wild need him to be if they are to reach the playoffs. Another player who needs to bounce back—or rather to step up—is Nino Niederreiter. The 24-year-old had a very respectable 20 goals and 23 assists last year. As good as that was, it is time for the former fifth overall pick to reach to new heights as his draft year counterparts Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin have. Blue-liner Jonas Brodin also struggled in 2015-16 with only seven points compared to 17 in the 2014-15 season. His +/- rating also took a nose dive from +21 to -5. At only 23 years old he is still young and can certainly be a reliable player for the Wild organization.
Captain Mikko Koivu is entering his twelfth season with the Wild and is only five assists away from 400 on his career. The 33-year-old recorded 56 points last season and, despite only being 37 games away from 800 on his career, should notch another 50-point campaign in 2016-17. Zach Parise had another fantastic season with 25 goals and 28 assists. When the team needs the puck at the back of the net he has been the Wilds’ go-to guy. The veteran is only one goal shy of 300 and will play in his 800th career game this season. The only major offseason acquisition Minnesota made was bringing in veteran forward Eric Staal. The 31-year-old is entering his thirteenth season and registered 39 points in 2015-16 between the Hurricanes and Rangers. He can certainly still produce on the score sheet, and his veteran presence will also help with the development of the young core up front. He will also join the 800-point club this season as he currently sits at 781.
The Man Between the Pipes
Devan Dubnyk has shown he is the man for the job in Minnesota. His 2.33 GAA and .918 save percentage are more than a team can ask for. If he continues to build on these numbers, his third season as a full-time netminder should be a good one.
The Wild exited the 2016 playoffs in round one after losing in six games to their division foes the Dallas Stars. The rematch of this playoff series will take place October 29th where the Wild will look to redeem themselves. The key month for this team in the 2016-17 season will be February where eight of their twelve games will take place at home. The Minnesota Wild have the combination of young and veteran talent, along with a top-notch goalie. If their defence can manage to limit the opposition’s scoring chances, this team may be able to capture a top three spot in the Central division.
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