Jets 2022-23 Opponent Preview: Minnesota Wild

In 2022-23, the Winnipeg Jets have 26 tilts against fellow Central Division teams — four games apiece against the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and three games apiece against the Arizona Coyotes and Dallas Stars.

In anticipation of the campaign to come, our THW Jets team’s “Opponents Preview” Series takes a look at each Central Division foe.

The Minnesota Wild finished the 2021-22 season with 113 points, second overall in the Western Conference behind only the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Colorado Avalanche. Their 53 wins included two over the Jets, a 6-5 overtime win in October followed by a 7-1 drubbing a month later. The other two matchups, both in Winnipeg a week apart in February, resulted in Jets victories; a 2-0 shutout that snapped a six-game Wild win streak followed by a 6-3 win that gave Jets fans hope for a playoff run that never materialized.

Kirill Kaprizov Minnesota Wild Winter Classic
Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild Winter Classic (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

The Wild seem to be a good matchup for Winnipeg. The Jets have a 4-2-1 record against them over the past two seasons, and there is no indication that one will dominate the other this season. What was surprising was the fact that in 2021-22, their statistics were similar. In terms of goals against, the penalty kill, the power play, and most of the basic team stats, the difference between these clubs was marginal. The exception and two glaring advantages in favour of the Wild were goals scored and finishing 24 points ahead of the Jets in the Central Division standings.

The Wild Advantage

Minnesota was a scoring juggernaut at times last season. Led by Russian sensation Kirill Kaprizov, who put up 108 points (47 goals, 61 assists), the Wild had three players above the point-per-game mark. Kevin Fiala (85 points) and Mats Zuccarello (79 points) also averaged more than a point a game. However, Fiala has since been traded to the Los Angeles Kings for prospects to alleviate a dire cap space issue the Wild created after buying out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s contracts last summer.

Along with those three, the Wild got strong offensive contributions from throughout their lineup as eight other players put up 30 points or more. Most notably, Matt Boldy, who posted 39 points in 47 games. Boldy, a 21-year-old rookie, joined the team midseason from their American Hockey League affiliate, Iowa Wild. The Wild’s first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft immediately fit in and was put on a line with Fiala and Freddy Gaudreau. His NHL debut happened to be in his hometown of Boston, where he scored his first NHL goal in front of friends and family. The trio, who became known as the BFF Line, was on fire from that point on, and the combination worked out well for head coach Dean Evason.

Matt Boldy Minnesota Wild
Matt Boldy, Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Wild have more scoring depth than the Jets. While the Jets’ scoring was mostly limited to the first two lines, Evason spread out his offence over three lines, mixing experience with youth and getting a maximum return from his forward unit.

Comparing the Jets & Wild in 2021-22

This season the Jets and Wild will face each other four times, and if the past couple of seasons is any indication, they should be competitive games. In 2021-22, the Wild ranked fifth in the NHL with 305 goals, compared to the Jets, who managed 250 and were 16th in the league. The Jets held the slightest advantage in power play success as they were 17th in the NHL, with Minnesota right behind them at 18th. Penalty kill percentages were also nearly identical, with the Wild being slightly more proficient at 76% compared to 75%, and the number of goals allowed was virtually identical, with the Wild giving up four less throughout the 82-game season, surrendering 249 to the Jets’ 253.

Related: Minnesota Wild in Win-Win Situation for 2022-23 Season

So in terms of stats, these two teams not only played the same style, they posted similar numbers except where it mattered… wins. You can’t win if you don’t score, and the Wild did both much better than the Jets.

The Jets’ Advantage

While the teams allowed virtually the same number of goals, the Jets may have had stronger representation between the pipes. Over the past couple of seasons, they have been considered easy to play against. If you’re a fan, that’s not news. Following a 4-2 road win in March, former Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy sang that loud and clear when he said, “…and statistically, they don’t defend the slot that well for whatever reason.” The Jets’ struggles to play solid team defence have been talked about constantly over the past two seasons both in the media and, apparently, amongst NHL coaches.

Marc-Andre Fleury Minnesota Wild Robert Thomas St. Louis Blues
Marc-Andre Fleury, Minnesota Wild (Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

Giving the nod to the Jets here has nothing to do with the ability of Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury but has everything to do with the Jets hanging Connor Hellebuyck out to dry far too often. He has had to bail his team out on multiple occasions, and after having a down season in 2021-22, he is sure to have a resurgent campaign. At 29, he’s still in the prime of his career and able to steal a game or two when needed.

Related: Jets Looking for a Bounceback Season From Hellebuyck

Fleury is a 38-year-old future Hall of Famer who brings a ton of experience and success to the Wild but may have to fill a role he wasn’t anticipating. Instead of splitting duties with Cam Talbot, who was recently traded to the Ottawa Senators, he will be expected to take on the majority of starts, with 24-year-old Filip Gustavsson as his backup.

The Hockey Writers’ Mariah Holland, who covers the Minnesota Wild, recently argued that this might be too much for Fleury:

“However, that near-perfect situation is gone, and while they still have Fleury, they also have a backup goaltender who is barely past being a rookie. If Fleury was 10 years younger, this wouldn’t be an issue because he and Gustavsson could split 80/20 or 70/30 and he’d handle it easily. The issue is, he’ll be 38 this season and while he’s a strong goalie for his age, that’s a lot of weight to put on his shoulders.”

The Wild acquired Gustavsson in the Talbot deal, and he is still unproven at the NHL level with only 23 starts to his name. However, the 2016 second-round selection of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a highly-touted prospect who is expected to make his mark in the NHL in the future and having Fleury as his mentor will serve him well.

The Matchup Ahead

November 23MinnesotaWinnipeg
December 27WinnipegMinnesota
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2022-23 Wild vs. Jets Schedule

The Wild had a much better 2021-22 than the Jets, but the two teams are so similar it’s hard to say one team has an edge over the other heading into 2022-23. The Wild can score – there’s no question about that. But their second-leading scorer is gone, and they will be counting on unproven prospects like Marco Rossi to fill the void. The Jets have a similar situation after the departure of Andrew Copp and Paul Stastny, creating an opportunity for forwards Cole Perfetti and Morgan Barron to make a name for themselves.

Prognosticating anything other than a season split at this point would be unreasonable. They both have speed and skill, they both have point-per-game players, they both have defensemen that get involved in the play, and they both have former Vezina Trophy-winning goalies defending their net. Regardless of the season outcome, you can be assured the four-game series will be hard-fought, fast and very entertaining.

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