The NHL lockout is a depressing time for hockey fans, but it does provide us with the opportunity to reflect on the tremendous history of our teams and the game. The Minnesota Wild franchise was founded as an expansion franchise in 2000. It has enjoyed some mixed success so far in its NHL history and the past offseason has provided hope that Hockey Town could be about to be awarded with a top notch NHL team. This article series will look at the top five players for the franchise at each position so far in its history and then move on to look at the team’s stars of the future. In week one we look at the top five forwards in Minnesota Wild history.
5. Pavol Demitra
Demitra only spent two seasons with the Minnesota Wild, but he makes it onto this list ahead of the likes of Pierre-Marc Bouchard based on his impact. He was signed as a veteran forward who could bring balance to the overall group and help turn an already strong defensive team into a good enough offensive team to be a consistent playoff contender. The results were extremely positive. The Wild made the playoffs in each of the two seasons that Demitra spent with the team. He scored 64 points in 71 games in 2006-07, and then added 54 points in 68 games the following season.
He gave the offense depth and was a superb veteran presence on the team’s top six. It wasn’t enough to push this team past the first round of the postseason, but Demitra did score seven points in 11 playoff games with the franchise.
Demitra makes it onto this list based on his 0.85 points per game rate and his crucial impact as a part of the most successful period in franchise history where the team won the only division title in its history and reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
4. Brian Rolston
In a similar vain to Demitra, Rolston provided this organisation with experience, leadership and helped to bulk out the offense. He enjoyed the most successful offensive period of his career with the Minnesota Wild benefiting from the rule changes in the post-04/05 lockout world. His best two offensive seasons came with the Wild as he scored 79 and 64 points in his first two seasons with the club. He scored at least 31 goals in each of his three seasons with Minnesota and really seemed to thrive with the responsibility of playing as one of the team’s top wingers.
He would score eight points in 11 playoff games with the team and wouldn’t find anywhere near the same offensive success after leaving Minnesota following the 2007-08 season. He wanted more money than the franchise was willing to pay, but the loss of Rolston was undoubtedly a big blow for this top six, possibly one they still haven’t recovered from.
Rolston is ranked fifth on the all-time scoring list of the Wild having scored 202 points in 241 games with the franchise. His 0.84 points per game ratio far exceeds his career rate, which stands at just 0.61. It is also the second highest rate in franchise history.
3. Andrew Brunette
Brunette’s record doesn’t necessarily match-up to that of Rolston or Demitra, but he ranks third on this list based on his longevity with the franchise and based on the way in which he truly epitomised the ethos of the Wild since their inception into the league.
Brunette has always been a player with a nose for the net. He is fearless in going into the dirty areas and has enjoyed great success there thanks mainly to having very good hands.
He had two separate three-year stints with the Wild franchise playing in a total of 489 games scoring 109 goals and 321 points in total. He was one of the franchise’s most consistent and longest serving veteran leaders, and he had been a real source of stability for this franchise especially in the post-Jacques Lemaire years.
2. Mikko Koivu
Koivu may well have been a popular choice for the top spot on this list and he came oh so close. He has been the heart of this team for some time and has done an excellent job as captain since 2009. He is an under-rated offensive player and excellent all-round two-way player. The evidence of his impact can be seen in the team’s struggles during the 2011-12 season when he was in and out of the side with injuries.
The 29-year old is just entering the prime of his career and will continue to be a centrepiece for this organisation as it moves forward. It really is worth emphasising that Koivu doesn’t get the full credit that he deserves for his offensive abilities, since his rookie season (six seasons) he has scored 102 goals and 340 points in 424 games. That included three 60+ point performances in a row until last year’s injury affected season where he scored 44 points in 55 games.
Koivu is the only permanent captain that the franchise has ever had, he was selected to the all-star game for the first time in 2012 and is generally starting to get the nation-wide recognition that he has long deserved. That will only increase now that the Minnesota Wild have joined the biggest spenders, but fans have always known it. Koivu is the most likely player on this list to be honoured at the end of his career. However, everyone involved with the Minnesota Wild will be hoping that that isn’t for a long while yet.
1. Marian Gaborik
Oh Gaborik Gaborik. It’s hard not to miss the love hate relationship that the Minnesota Wild enjoyed with indisputably the most gifted hockey player to suit up for the franchise. Gaborik is arguably one of the most offensively talented players in the league and he has really proved a point since moving to the New York Rangers. Some questioned how he would do under the spotlight in New York and playing for the demanding John Tortorella, but Gaborik has proved any doubters wrong with two 40+ goal seasons in his first three with the franchise.
Anyone who truly watched Minnesota and Gaborik closely would have known that a player of his ability would find success. He definitely benefited from the coaching of Jacques Lemaire even if the pair had their fair share of conflicts. He now uses his frame to great effect and actually plays a decent two-way game, even if his effort is a little erratic at times.
Gaborik tops this list because he is clearly the best forward ever to play for the Minnesota Wild. He leads the franchise with 219 goals, which is 100 more than second place (Brunette), and he also leads the franchise with 437 points in his career, a mark that puts him 66 points clear of the second highest scorer (Koivu).