While it felt like the Tampa Bay Lightning just won the Stanley Cup yesterday, the 2021-22 NHL season is quickly approaching. As the Minnesota Wild celebrate their 20th anniversary, several players on the roster are getting awfully close to some significant milestones. Whether we’re talking about personal accomplishments or moving up in one of the Wild’s all-time statistical categories, there could be plenty of reasons to celebrate if you’re a Minnesota fan.
While all 32 NHL teams are set to play an 82-game schedule this season, keep in mind that the unpredictable pandemic that we’re in could cause postponements or outright cancellations that could affect some of these potential landmark accolades. With that said, here’s a look at five Wild players who are approaching significant milestones in the 2021-22 NHL season.
1. Jared Spurgeon: 744 Games Played
Upon first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything important about 744 games played. After all, players usually celebrate specific milestone moments, such as 500 or even 1,000 games played. However, 744 is important to Spurgeon in this case because it’s the number of games he needs to play to pass Nick Schultz for second on the Wild’s all-time list. When you think about it, it’s pretty remarkable in terms of his career. The New York Islanders selected Spurgeon 156th overall at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft; however, they chose not to sign him to an entry-level contract. That ended up benefiting Minnesota as it allowed the Edmonton, Alberta native to try out for them at training camp in 2010, and the rest is history.
Spurgeon currently sits at 707 games played, meaning he needs just 37 games to pass Schultz. The good news is that he’s only played fewer than 53 games once in a season, and that was during the 2012-13 lockout-shortened campaign. He’s also missed just nine games over the past three seasons, so chances are that he’ll move up to no. 2 by the end of the season. Spurgeon still has a ways to go before he catches Mikko Koivu for the all-time games played mark (1,028), but if anyone can do it, it’s him. After all, he’s the Wild’s captain and still has six years left on his $53 million deal, so it’s looking like it’s only a matter of time before he takes Koivu’s record too.
2. Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba: 200 Points
When it comes to the Wild, they’ve been a defensively-oriented team for most of their existence. They haven’t had too many standout offensive defensemen over the past 21 years, which is made evident by the fact that Spurgeon and Ryan Suter are the only d-men in franchise history to hit the 200-point mark. Well, there’s a good chance that could change this season, as Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba are closing in on joining that exclusive group.
Brodin will enter the 2021-22 NHL season with 169 points, which is 31 back from 200. The 28-year-old Swede has never piled up the points; however, he’s proven that he does have offensive upside by registering at least 21 points in four of the last five seasons. In fact, Brodin averaged 0.43 points per game in 53 contests during the 2020-21 season, which put him on pace for 35 points in an 82-game schedule. If he can play at a similar pace in 2021-22 and stay healthy throughout the campaign, recording his 200th isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
For Dumba, the road to 200 points is a lot easier than it is for Brodin. While his offensive output may have dropped off after putting up his lone 50-point campaign four seasons ago, the 27-year-old defenseman sits just five points back of 200 on his career. Unless something astronomical goes wrong, it’s hard to imagine a world where he doesn’t reach that mark in the 2021-22 season. He hasn’t recorded fewer than 21 points in a season since 2014-15, and even then, he was still on pace to surpass the 20-point mark had he not spent time in the American Hockey League. Nevertheless, Dumba and Brodin will continue seeing top-4 minutes with the Wild this season, which bodes well for their chances when it comes to becoming the third and fourth Minnesota defensemen to hit the 200-point mark.
3. Mathew Dumba: 500 Games Played
Not only is Dumba likely to hit 200 points this season, but he’s only 38 games away from playing 500 with the Wild. Only eight other players in franchise history have achieved that milestone, which goes to show how valued he is since being drafted by Minnesota almost 10 years ago. A ruptured pectoral muscle ended Dumba’s season after just 32 games in 2018-19. While some wondered how he’d deal with injuries going forward, he’s only missed five games over the past two seasons. In other words, the 500-game mark is easily doable as long as he stays healthy.
Dumba has two years remaining on his contract, so there’s a chance that he could make it all the way into the top five of the Wild’s all-time games played list. At the same time, he’s been involved in potential trade rumors over the last year, so his future in Minnesota could be in jeopardy. Nevertheless, Dumba is with the Wild for the foreseeable future, which gives him plenty of time to leave his mark in the history books.
4. Alex Goligoski: 1,000 Games Played
Veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski hasn’t even played a game with the Wild, yet he’s poised to set some personal history in the 2021-22 NHL season. After beginning his career in 2007-08, the 36-year-old blueliner could potentially play in his 1,000th game this season. Goligoski currently sits at 924 games played, so he can only afford to miss six contests on the season. Even though he’s up there in age, the Wild are paying him $5 million for his services this season, so it isn’t like he has to worry about being scratched as a bottom pairing defenseman. Minnesota needed someone with a left-handed shot to play with Spurgeon on the top defensive unit, so you can expect Goligoski to be that guy on his road to 1,0000 games played.
While he’s run into the occasional injury issue, Goligoski has been relatively healthy throughout his career. He’s played at least 70 games nine times in the last 11 seasons. The only times he missed the mark were when the campaign was shortened in 2012-13 due to a lockout and in 2020-21 thanks to the pandemic-shortened season. With that said, Goligoski should at least come close to hitting 1,000 games played this season.
5. Joel Eriksson-Ek: 100 Points
A few years ago, Joel Eriksson-Ek’s future role with the Wild was up in the air. While it’s not always fair to judge a player by the stats they put up in their early 20s, the Swedish center had just 37 points in his first 148 games played (0.25 points per game). That just wasn’t encouraging enough for a player selected 20th overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. However, things began to click two years ago when Eriksson-Ek tallied 29 points in 62 games in 2019-20. He took things even further last season, hitting 30 points in just 56 games (0.54 ppg) and looked like a legitimate top-6 forward if he can stay consistent. Now, he’s just four points away from 100.
One hundred points may not seem like a whole lot, but it’s significant because only 34 other players have done it in franchise history. While it may have taken Eriksson-Ek longer to reach his first 100 points than fans were hoping for, his continued development is promising. If he can continue playing the way he did last season, his next 100 points should come to him a lot easier. After all, he’s “an elite two-way play-driving center,” according to JFresh Hockey’s player cards. Assuming these projections hold, not only will it be fun to see Eriksson-Ek reach his 100th point with the Wild this season, but it’ll be equally as interesting to watch his continued growth towards becoming a first-line center.
A Season Worth Celebrating
The above milestones are just a small example of why Wild fans will have a lot to celebrate during the 2021-22 NHL season. Other players on the roster are close to reaching personal benchmarks as well, and there’s also the fact that it’s Minnesota’s 20th anniversary since joining the league. While there’s the possibility that not every player reaches these milestones, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the upcoming campaign is shaping up to be a memorable one.
As a lifelong hockey fan and recent Master of Journalism graduate, it’s always been my dream to write about the sport. That’s why you can find me here on THW covering the Minnesota Wild! You may also see my work on FanDuel, the Ottawa Citizen, and various sports betting sites. Follow me on Twitter @devplat!