Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where the Last Word on Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2018-19 Minnesota Wild.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Minnesota Wild
The 2017-18 season was a season all too familiar to the Minnesota Wild franchise. For the second consecutive season, The Wild finished the regular season with at least 100 points. It also marked the third time in four years the Wild surpassed the century mark.
The Wild finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-26-11, good for 101 points and third in the Central Division behind the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets. The regular season results also marked the fourth time in five seasons that they were victorious in at least 40 games.
That is, while they were healthy.
Injury Heavy 2017-18 Season
Despite finishing with 101 points, Minnesota was hit with the injury bug on a few massive occasions across the season. These injuries included a total of 166 man games lost, according to NHL.com Injury Report.
Of these 166 lost man games, the most critical lost games can be seen across a handful of players including; Zach Parise 42 games (Fractured Sternum/Microdiscectomy Surgery), Luke Kunin 22 games (Left ACL Tear), Jared Spurgeon 21 games (Partial Right Hamstring Tear/Groin Strain), Nino Niederreiter 19 games (Lower Body/High Left Ankle Sprain), and Ryan Suter 10 games (Right Ankle Fracture).
Despite the injuries, the Wild were still extremely agile offensively. Eric Staal outperformed his contract and scored 42 goals and added 34 assists for 76 points. Linemate, Jason Zucker had a career year scoring 33 goals and adding 31 assists for a career-high 64 points, 17 more than his previous high.
On the blueline, Ryan Suter quarterbacked the back end with six goals and 45 assists, while Mathew Dumba added 14 goals and 36 assists for 50 points of his own.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk appeared in 60 games compiling a record of 35-16-7 with a 2.52 goals-against-average and a 0.918 save percentage. Alex Stalock was also decent in relief posting a 50/50 record of 10-10-4 in 28 appearances.
As they did during the two previous seasons, Minnesota found themselves exiting the NHL’s post-season earlier than they anticipated. A third straight first-round elimination, this time at the hand of the Winnipeg Jets, concluded the 2017-18 season for the Wild. The series went one game longer than the minimum, with the Jets winning the series.
After the early exit from the playoffs, the Wild wasted little time on making adjustments.
On May 23rd, 2018, the Minnesota Wild announced that Paul Fenton would take over the role as the team’s general manager. This anticipated hiring came after three straight first-round exits under the leadership of Chuck Fletcher. Also, the Wild also added Dean Evason to their coaching staff as an assistant. The Wild hired Evason following a six-season head coaching stint with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals. Over the six seasons, Evason made it to the playoffs four times, losing in the first round in each appearance. His record with the Admirals finished at 242-161-53.
The highlights of the most recent off-season came in late July. On July 21st the Wild agreed to terms on a five-year contract extension with defenseman Mathew Dumba, worth $30 million. The Wild then also extended forward Jason Zucker, to a new five-year deal, worth $27.5 million.
While the two deals above are that of the most significant made by the Wild, there were also some smaller but also important players brought into the system.
On the back end, the Wild made a free agent splash agreeing to a three-year deal with Greg Pateyrn. They also added Matt Bartkowski to a two-year, two-way contract.
Minnesota also added a netminder with NHL experience. The goaltender famous for causing hamburgers to be thrown onto the ice with the Ottawa Senators, Andrew Hammond, agreed to a one-year contract with the Wild.
Zach Parise (11) – Eric Staal (16) – Jason Zucker (12)
Jordan Greenway (18) – Eric Fehr (21) – J.T. Brown (71)
Extras: Cal O’Reilly (21), Luke Kunin (19)
Ryan Suter (20) – Mathew Dumba (24)
Jonas Brodin (25) – Jared Spurgeon (46)
Devan Dubnyk (40)
Alex Stalock (32)
Extra: Andrew Hammond (35)
Players To Watch
The 2018-19 Minnesota Wild will be looking to their usual key players to be successful.
Zach Parise, while previously running into injury problems, has been a constant provider for the offense of the Wild. Currently, Parise ranks fifth on the all-time scorers list in Minnesota. Parise is coming off a mediocre looking 24-point season, albeit only playing in 42 games. The key for Parise will be staying healthy. In the three games he appeared for the Wild in the playoffs, he scored three goals. Parise has not played a complete NHL season since his final year with New Jersey during the 2011-12 season. Whether the 2018-19 Minnesota Wild be home to a healthy Parise, or to a Parise of recent past is the biggest question.
Another player that should be of heavy focus is centreman Eric Staal. Staal exceeded the expectations of many during the 2017-18 season when he scored 42 goals. The question now remains, can he do it again? Staal is entering his 16th season in the NHL and his third with the Wild. His goal output of last season places second best in his career, behind only his second NHL season when he scored 45. Staal has been consistently healthy over the course of his career, and if he can continue to gel with linemates Parise and Zucker, Staal could easily surpass 30 goals again this season.
The final player to watch on the 2018-19 Minnesota Wild is the backstop, Devan Dubnyk. With the Wild playing in a powerful Central Division, a lot of the responsibility will be on Dubnyk to steal some games. The success of the Wild has been dependant on the playing time and the success of Dubnyk. Over the last four season, Dubnyk has appeared in at least 60 games in three of them, winning at least 30 games in those three seasons. The moral of the story being that if Dubnyk plays well, so do the rest of the Wild. Many will be looking for him to play the majority of the games again this season. The result of his starts will evidently paint the picture for the Wild.
As mentioned, the Central division is going to be a tough division to crack the top three in. With up-and-coming teams like the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche fighting for the spots alongside division elite Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets, it will be a tight race.
It will be a tough task for the Wild to finish with 100 points for a third straight season, and they likely won’t. The team is ageing faster than it is getting younger. While many can hope that the veteran core of Koivu, Staal and Parise can all play like it is 2010 again, although it is highly unlikely that all three put up high numbers.
The defense and goaltending are where the Wild appear to be the strongest. Led by Suter and Dumba, the defense is capable of supporting the offense if it is weaker than seasons past. In net, Dubnyk will be shouldering the bulk of the season. He will likely surpass the 60-game mark again this season.
With that being said, the Wild should be a tough out in the first round of the playoffs. The team is capable of earning a wild card spot into the postseason. Their chances of moving to the second round should not be taken lightly.