The 2015-16 season wasn’t the most memorable one for a handful of current Minnesota Wild players. Big names like Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu didn’t exactly have career years last year but both men did put up respectable numbers as they led a Wild offense that continued to experience its annual struggles.
At the same time, the new season can’t come soon enough for certain other members of the team as they anxiously await their chance to hit that reset button and start the year with a blank slate.
Here’s a look at three Wild players in particular who would benefit greatly from rebound seasons.
1. Eric Staal (C)
Eric Staal became Minnesota’s biggest offseason acquisition immediately after he was signed to a three-year deal with an average annual value of $3.5 million. The 6’4″ centre is coming off yet another disappointing season in which he saw his points-per-game average decline for the third straight year. Staal ended up finishing the 2015-16 campaign with a combined 13 goals and 38 points in 83 regular season games split between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers.
A 2006 Stanley Cup Champion, Staal was dealt to the Rangers just prior to the trade deadline last season with the hopes that another chance at the playoffs might reignite his offence. While he did manage to play postseason hockey for the first time since 2008-09, the experience was short-lived.
The former Hurricanes captain struggled to find an identity with the Rangers and quietly finished his playoff performance by going pointless in five games before bowing out to the eventual cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
The oldest of the four Staal brothers, Eric hasn’t hit the 70-point plateau since 2011-12 and the 38 points he finished the year with, his lowest total since his rookie year in 2003-04, would have placed him eighth on the Wild in scoring. Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher has to be looking at Staal as a former 100-point man and big-bodied centre who can still play. The GM is no doubt holding out hope that Staal simply had an off-year due to an uncertain future amid constant trade rumors and contract extension talks with the only team he had ever suited up for in the NHL.
Now, starting the 2016-17 season with a new team and without the pressure of a big dollar contract on his shoulders, the 31-year old finds himself looking to prove his doubters wrong by showing that he is still worthy of playing big minutes in the NHL. Based on comments from new head coach Bruce Boudreau, Staal will be given every chance to succeed right off the bat as he’s expected to start the season centering Minnesota’s top line between assistant captain Parise and, one of the team’s top breakout candidates, Charlie Coyle.
2. Jason Pominville (RW)
Perhaps nobody on the Wild team could use a rebound season right now more than Jason Pominville. The 11-year NHL veteran suffered through what was statistically the worst year of his career after he finished the regular season with a disappointing 36 points in 75 games.
The former Buffalo Sabres forward had been a pillar of consistency throughout his career up until last season. Pominville would typically provide his team with a guaranteed 50 to 70 points while also being one of its top scorers on an annual basis. Needless to say, it was a surprise to see the winger struggle to the extent that he did.
Pominville’s struggles drew the ire of critics mostly due to the fact that he was only in the second year of a five-year deal which pays him $5.6 million annually. To make matters worse, the contract also comes with a no-movement clause which would make it mandatory that the Wild protect him in next year’s expansion draft should he still be a part of the roster at that time.
Presently, with three years remaining on his contract and already being the oldest player on his team, Pominville finds himself in a difficult position but hopes that last season was nothing but a small valley on an otherwise even plain. The three-time 30 goal scorer shot a career-worst 5.9% and also saw his average time on ice decrease by almost two full minutes compared to the season before.
If there’s one positive for Pominville heading into the new season, it’s the fact that he closed out the year strong by leading Minnesota in playoff scoring with seven points in six games. It remains to be seen if he can carry that momentum over to the 2016-17 regular season.
3. Jonas Brodin (D)
It wasn’t long ago that Jonas Brodin was widely viewed as an up and coming star for Minnesota and was considered to be a future anchor for their defence corps. Brodin enjoyed three highly successful seasons playing mostly first-pairing minutes alongside one of the league’s top defencemen in Ryan Suter. The rearguard was rewarded with a new six-year contract worth $25 million before everything came crashing back down to Earth this past year.
Brodin’s fall from grace seemingly all started when Suter publicly complained about being reunited on a pairing with the left-shooting defenceman. Suter made it well known that he believed it would be more beneficial to his game if he had a traditional right-shot defence partner.
In the end, Brodin was split from Suter and saw his play fall off as a result. He spent the majority of the season in the top four paired with either Marco Scandella or Matt Dumba but failed to develop that same type of chemistry with either player. The Brodin-Scandella pairing provided especially poor results in terms of possession stats but it should also be noted that the blueliner was tasked with a career-high 60.4% defensive zone starts last season which also helps explain the steep drop-off in his shot totals.
Brodin missed 13 games due to a broken foot en route to finishing the season with a career-low seven points and an average time on ice of 20:25 which was significantly less than the 24:10 he averaged the year before.
The Swedish defenceman found his name circulating in trade rumours more often than not this past year and his future with the Wild remains uncertain to this day. The Wild are deep on defence and thin at the centre ice position which results in Brodin’s name seemingly always being mentioned in terms of potential trade candidates who could help net Minnesota that offensive centreman they continue to seek.
Still young at only 23-years of age, Brodin will look to rediscover the defensive poise and calmness he was known for prior to last season. The rearguard will also be playing for a new coaching staff and it is unlikely that new defence coach Scott Stevens will deploy him in as much of a defence-heavy role as he saw in 2015-16; expect his zone starts to return back to his career norm.
Brodin has shown in the past that he is capable of handling big minutes on the backend and those types of players can be invaluable. There will be plenty of opportunities for the point man to get his career back on track and what better way than to rebound right away with a big season.
Mark Bowie covers the Edmonton Oilers and the QMJHL for THW.