Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where 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 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Our series continues with the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild.
To say the Minnesota Wild’s season was disappointing would be an understatement. The Wild began year with playoff expectations, and the roster to back them up. They fell far short of those expectations. The Wild’s offense was the 5th worst in the NHL, averaging only 2.6 goals per game. This offense was further hampered by injuries to important depth forwards like Mikko Koivu. A team that struggles to score will always struggle to succeed, and the Wild were no exception. The lack of offensive production combined with average defence and leaky goaltending lead the Wild to a last place finish in the Central Division.
Although the season was ultimately a disappointment, there were positives. Jared Spurgeon played all 82 games for the first time in his career while setting a career high in points (43). Mathew Dumba finally began to show his skills as an offensive force prior to his injury during a fight. The team also had the 7th best penalty kill in the league (81.7%). The Wild chose to move center Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline for Ryan Donato. Ultimately, the Wild struggled to produce all season long. The team missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
The most notable part of the Wild’s off-season was the questionable firing of then-GM Paul Fenton. Fenton was with the team for just under 15 months and conducted the Wild’s draft. Shortly thereafter, Wild owner Craig Leopold fired him. It’s hard not to question the logic of firing a team’s GM after they’ve made the draft picks, but Leopold cited a difference in vision for the team as the reason for Fenton’s departure. The Wild eventually hired Bill Guerin to act as the fourth general manager in franchise history. Mats Zuccarello was signed as a free agent to potentially jump start the offense.
If the Wild want to avoid disappointment this season, their top six forward group must score more goals. Zucker, Staal, and Zuccarello all have the skill set to be offensive game changers. They will need to play like it if the Wild have any post-season aspirations. Zuccarello may need time to settle in with his new team, although playing alongside Staal may reduce any struggle to adapt. Zucker had a down year in 2018-19, but he’s a proven 30 goal scorer who is capable of carrying an offense.
Rounding out the top six is another line full of potential. After missing almost half of the 2017-18 season due to injury, Parise bounced back in 2018-19, scoring 28 goals in route to a 63 point finish. On the other wing is Fiala, who joined the Wild after a trade with Nashville last season. A change of scenery might be exactly what Fiala needs to come into his own as an offensive talent. Anchoring the line is Kunin, the 15th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Kunin has yet to play an entire season the NHL, but if he’s able to recapture the success he had playing for the University of Wisconsin, he may serve as a boost to goals for.
The success of the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild hinges on the improvement of their woeful offense. The improvement of their offense hinges on whether or not this forward group can produce the goals they’re supposed to.
The 2019-20 Minnesota Wild have an interesting and diverse group of talent in their bottom six. Donato will play his first full season with Minnesota alongside Koivu, who missed the latter half of last season with a knee injury. Sophomore forward Greenway completes a third line that could provide depth scoring and strong defensive play. Donato and Greenway are both young, but a healthy Koivu could help them take their game to the next level. The third line will provide a solid defensive boost to the Wild as well. Koivu is a former Selke award nominee, and Donato has shown flashes of defensive brilliance early in his career.
The group is rounded out by Foligno, Eriksson Ek, and Hartman. Foligno and Hartman bring grit and toughness to the bottom six. The Wild will be Hartman’s fourth team in two seasons, and he will be looking to stick in Minnesota. Eriksson Ek, The Wild’s 1st round pick in 2015, centers the line. Eriksson Ek has failed to live up to expectations so far, and this season could be make or break for the young forward. Once this fourth line is used to playing together, they have potential to be one of the better fourth lines in the league.
Dumba and Spurgeon staying injury-free may be another key to the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild’s success. Spurgeon played a full season for the first time in his career last year, and another full season may see new career highs. Dumba scored 12 goals (22 points) in 32 games before an injury suffered in a fight against Matthew Tkachuk ended his season. This scoring boost combined with the shutdown defence of Suter will make the Wild’s top four defensemen threatening. Seeler, Pateryn, and Brodin will need to show significant improvement over last season.
Dubynk didn’t have a great season last year. His numbers dropped for the second consecutive year, but without goal support in front of him, it’s impossible to tell who’s to blame for his slight downturn. Starting 67 games certainly didn’t help the 32 year old netminder, although the Wild didn’t have much of a choice.
The 2019-20 Minnesota Wild will certainly need more from Stalock. In the 21 games he started for the Wild, he only managed to win 6. His GAA and Save Percentage were both incredibly unimpressive (.899 and 2.99, respectively). If Stalock doesn’t improve, the Wild may resort to riding Dubnyk too hard, which will reduce his performance. If Stalock can’t serve as an effective number two goalie, the Wild may look for a replacement.
Players to Watch
When Donato joined the Wild at the deadline, he played the best hockey of his professional career so far. Donato struggled to find himself in Boston, failing to break into the top six because of a log jam at centre in the Bruins roster. If Donato can build off of his strong finish in 2018-19, he may break into the top six in Minnesota.
Before his injury, Dumba was finally having the breakout year that the Wild knew he would have. He was on pace to set career highs in both goals and assists through the first 32 games of last season. Dumba’s return could make or break Minnesota’s defence, and their success will be influenced by his play.
Kunin was a great player in Wisconsin, but he’s failed to see NHL success so far. The Wild will give him the top six minutes to see if he can grow into the role. Alongside Parise and Fiala, he will have ample opportunity. Kunin failing to achieve could see Donato move into his spot in as the second line centre.
Predictions for the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild are a team at a crossroads. Bounce-back seasons, continued development of team chemistry, and new additions could very easily push the team right back into the playoffs. Injuries, lack of defensive depth, over-reliance on Dubynk, and poor scoring might see them slip further down in a Western Conference that’s becoming more and more competitive. 2019-20 is a make-or-break season for this group of players, and it’s equally likely that they could trend in either direction. Either way, the 2019-2020 Minnesota Wild will hang in the race for a wildcard spot all season long.
ST. PAUL, MN – MARCH 16: Jared Spurgeon #46 of the Minnesota Wild is congratulated after scoring a power play goal in the second period against the New York Rangers on March 16, 2019 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Minnesota Wild defeated the New York Rangers 5-2. (Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)