After the first week of the NHL season, the Minnesota Wild are in a familiar spot – not enough shots, not enough goals, not enough wins, and significantly fewer games played than the most of their division rivals. Although the Wild were badly beaten in their first two games and are currently at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with zero points, there are several reasons for fans to remain optimistic about the season. After all, we are only two games in.
Reason #1: Strong Starts for Suter and Dumba
Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba are the Wild’s two leading scorers right now. This speaks to the quality of the team’s defensemen and the strength of the team. After Dumba’s great start last season, where he was leading all defensemen in goals before missing the last 50 games with a torn pectoral muscle, it is great to see him picking up right where he left off. Dumba scored against the Nashville Predators to give the Wild a 2-1 lead in that game, and he has looked confident and healthy. Barring another injury, with his blistering slap shot, I would expect him to be one of the highest goal-scoring defensemen this season.
Suter has also had a great start to the year with three points in two games (1G, 2A). At the age of 34, Suter continues to be the backbone of the Wild’s defensive core, averaging just over 25 minutes a game so far this year. Coming off a season with 47 points, it would be great to see Suter break the 50-point mark this season as he continues to be one of the best defensive-defensemen in the game.
Reason #2: The Number of Chances Jason Zucker is Generating
Although Jason Zucker only has one point so far (a goal in the Predators game), he has certainly been noticeable on the ice. Against Nashville, the winger had an abundance of breakaways and point-blank chances, only cashing in on one of them. He also had great chances against the Colorado Avalanche but was unable to score.
Zucker is notorious for being unable to consistently finish great chances – as he is a bit of a streaky player – but if he continues to get golden opportunities, look for him to start putting up big numbers. Coming off a year where his shooting percentage was significantly less than his career averageof 12.5%, I expect him to rebound in a big way this year. Zucker is the energizer of the Wild and he is definitely an exciting player to watch.
Reason 3: Dubnyk’s Numbers Will Improve
Although Devan Dubnyk has not necessarily played poorly in the first week of the season, his play has left something to be desired. It has been slightly subpar for his reputation as one of the top goalies in the league. He currently has a 3.59 goals against average (GAA) and a .887 save percentage (SV%), both of which are significantly worse than his career averages of 2.54 GAA and a .916 SV%.
As the season goes on, I anticipate more consistency out of Dubnyk and his numbers to move closer to his career averages. The Wild cannot give up four or five goals a game and expect to win. Expect the team to tighten up defensively, which will help the goaltender as well.
Reason #4: Increased Production from Youngsters
The Wild’s “new young core” of Kevin Fiala, Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Luke Kunin did not register a point through the first two games. However, compared to last season, these players will be put in more prominent roles and given the chance to succeed. Head coach Bruce Boudreau has Kunin, Fiala, Greenway, and Donato on lines with the Wild’s top veteran players, giving them the opportunity to break out and produce meaningful points.
Last season, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, and Mikael Granlund occupied top-six forward roles. This season, it is on these youngsters to step-up and fill the gaps in the offense. Meanwhile, defensively-minded Eriksson Ek continues to anchor the fourth line and his penalty-kill duties are crucial to the team. I expect this season to be a big step in the development of the team’s young core and hopefully a few players can have breakout seasons!