We’re less than 31 days away from the beginning of the 2017/18 season. Today we continue to dive into the 31 NHL teams in alphabetical order, take a look at their previous standings and upcoming season predictions, as well as their key additions and subtractions. Yesterday we looked at the LA Kings, today we travel into the wilds of Minnesota to look at what we can expect from the Wild.
2016-17 record: 49-25-8=106
Key additions: Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno
Key losses: Marco Scandella, Jason Pominville, Erik Haula
2017-18 prediction: 48-27-7=103
Heading into the 2017-2018 season, the Minnesota Wild are coming off of their most successful regular season (106 points) and perhaps their most disappointing post-season, being eliminated in the first round by the St. Louis Blues in just 5 games. In their first season under head coach Bruce Boudreau, the Wild exploded offensively, finishing the season with 263 goals for, which was tops in the Western Conference and 2nd behind only the Stanley Cup Champion, Pittsburgh Penguins (282) in the entire NHL. Their goals against were also near the top of the league (4th in the Western Conference & 7th in the NHL), allowing only 208 goals thanks to a stellar first half of the season by All-Star goaltender Devan Dubnyk and a strong defensive presence, led by All-Star Ryan Suter. All of this regular season success, led to perhaps the biggest letdown in the team’s 16 year history, considering that this was the first time the Wild came into a playoff series as the favored team. Despite outplaying and outshooting the Blues for the majority of the series, the Wild failed to live up to expectations and found themselves on the golf course far sooner than anyone in the State of Hockey would’ve liked.
In the offseason, GM Chuck Fletcher traded away expensive and aging winger, Jason Pominville and promising defenseman, Marco Scandella to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for diminutive, talented, and oft-injured forward Tyler Ennis (5’9” 175lbs) and big, tough winger, Marcus Foligno. The soon-to-be fan favorite, Foligno will easily win the fans’ hearts with his hard-hitting play (5th in the NHL last season with 279 hits) and willingness to drop the gloves (10th in the NHL last season with 9 fighting majors). The Wild haven’t had a player like this since they stole analytics darling, Nino Niederreiter from the New York Islanders for Cal Clutterbuck.
Ennis is talented enough to play in the top-six but will likely find himself as the fourth line right winger, alongside Chris Stewart at left wing and newly-acquired center, Matt Cullen to start the season. If the skilled Ennis can stay healthy and live up to his potential, he could make a big impact this season. Foligno (6’3” 228lbs) looks to play left wing on the Wild’s third line, with Charlie Coyle (6’3” 221lbs) on the right side and rookie centerman, Joel Eriksson Ek (6’2” 197lbs) in the middle making this a big, powerful line with lots of ability to make plays and score goals, along with the size and physicality to rough up the opposition. Eriksson Ek played in just 15 games last season but still managed to put up 7 points (3G 4A) and showed flashes of brilliance, with a great shot and a very good head for the game. Look for him to take a big step forward this year, after spending much of last season playing in his native Sweden.
Normally, the signing of a 40-year-old, fourth line center, isn’t big news but that is not the case here. Native Minnesotan and three-time Stanley Cup Champion, Matt Cullen signed a one-year deal with the Wild this offseason. Cullen is very well liked and respected throughout the league and is the type of teammate that every dressing room needs. Adding the experienced Cullen gives the Wild four solid lines and allows Eriksson Ek to play third line center, where he needs to be at this point in his career.
Last year, the Wild won with excellent defense and timely scoring from up and down their roster and with no standout superstar, they’ll need to do it again this year. The Wild had no single player reach 30 goals or 70 points but had 12 players with goals in the double-digits and 11 players with more than 30 points. Mikael Granlund had a breakout season and led the way with 69 points (26G 43A), just ahead of the resurgent Eric Staal, who had a tremendous rebound season, putting up 65 points (28G 37A) following his least productive season since his rookie year, amassing only 39 points (13G 26A) with the Hurricanes and Rangers.
Minnesota’s own, Zach Parise struggled through last season, tallying only 19 goals in 69 games and is already dealing with a nagging back injury coming into training camp this fall. If he can return to being the 30+ goal scorer of years past, he could help bring the Wild to new heights but if not, his massive contract may start to look like an anchor, pulling his team down. It takes a lot for Wild fans to turn on a hometown hero but lackluster production combined with a 13 year, $98 million contract, might just be enough to anger even the most die-hard Wild fans.
Even if the scoring comes back to Earth this season, the Wild should still be in good shape, considering they have one of the top goaltenders in the league in Devan Dubnuk and a very good blue line. Suter is a minute-eating rock on D and his partner, Jared Spurgeon is one of the most underrated defensemen in the league, providing excellent vision and puck-moving ability. Entering his fourth full season in the NHL, 23-year-old Matt Dumba, from Regina, Saskatchewan has huge offensive upside but has been a defensive liability at times. He has added to his point totals each year, with last year being his best with 34 points (11G 23A and a plus 15 +/- rating) If he can put it all together and get continued power play time, look for him to have a breakout season.
The Wild will challenge for a division title this year but given how incredibly stacked the Central Division is (every team except Colorado, that is), they may see a slight dip in wins but as long as they get consistent scoring from their offense and they can avoid major injuries, they should have no problem making the playoffs for a sixth straight year and potentially make a deep playoff run.