It’s almost here. The day we’ve all been waiting for. October 8th, 2014. 7:00 PM EST.
The. Puck. Drops. Today.
Fans from all over the world have been counting down the days until this date for nearly three months. For many of us, it’s like Christmas in October. Gone are the days of NHL Draft shows. NHL Free Agency is in the past. Scratch off Training Camp, that’s done. Those preseason games that don’t matter, done with. Today is the start of the real thing. An 82 game grind over six months for 30 teams across the Unites States and Canada. All for a chance to play hockey in Spring. A shot at lifting the 34.5 pound holy grail. A once in a lifetime, dream come true. To win the Stanley Cup.
Before that can happen, each team needs to set its 23-man roster and its game day lines. Finally, these rosters have been finalized. For now, let’s take a look at the Minnesota Wild’s opening night roster and probable lines. They don’t play until Thursday, when they play host to the Colorado Avalanche at the Xcel Energy Centre at 8:00PM EST. That should make for a heck of a home opener, as these two teams showcased an exciting and elite playoff series last year, with the Minnesota Wild prevailing in OT of Game 7.
At the centre position, the Minnesota Wild have five guys who are more than able to make an impact. Their likely first line centre is Mikael Granlund, who is continuing to improve and had great chemistry with his line last season. He’ll hope to put concussion issues behind him and have a breakout year. On the second line will be captain Mikko Koivu, who never seems to slow down. Unfortunately though, injury woes have always been an issue with him, and it seems extremely rare to get a full season out of the captain. On the third and fourth lines you can expect to see veteran Kyle Brodziak and speedy sophomore, Erik Haula. It seems more likely for Haula to start on the third line as the Wild seem to want a fast third line that can be reliable and also produce. The spare centre is Charlie Coyle, who will likely start the season as a second or third line winger. If things don’t go according to plan or injuries become an issue, Coyle can always fill that spot.
On the Minnesota Wild wings, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville will likely be first liners again. They seemed to always find each other last year, as well as Granlund, and were looking great in the preseason games. Behind them is newcomer, Thomas Vanek, who adds a huge aspect of depth to the Wild. He will likely see Nino Niederrieter across from him. ‘El Nino’ had a great first season with the Wild and will likely build upon that this year, especially if he plays with Vanek and Koivu. Matt Cooke will be an impact third liner again. Cooke has changed his game style into a very effective player. He was the team’s top penalty killer last year. Jason Zucker also made the opening night roster. Zucker had a bit of a step back last year, but will look to fit into the team plans this year as a speedy and responsible player. Justin Fontaine, who was great in the playoffs last year, starts the season on the injured reserve, so the Minnesota Wild signed Ryan Carter yesterday to fill his spot. Carter has spent the last three season with the New Jersey Devils, including a run to the Cup Finals in 2012. He will likely play fourth line until Fontaine returns.
On defence, you can expect to see much of the same as last year’s squad however, the Minnesota Wild are carrying an unprecedented 9 defencemen into the season. Although, free agent signee, Stu Bickel, is more of a utility man who can play both defence and right wing effectively. Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon start the season as the likely top two. They were very effective near the end of last year both shutting down opposition and creating offensive opportunities. Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella will likely be the second unit. Both players have looked tremendously better in training camp and preseason this year. The Minnesota Wild are developing one of the deeper blue lines in the league. This will also allow Suter to play a proper amount of time, something like 24:00 a night, instead. The third pairing is up for grabs between Keith Ballard, Mat Dumba, Christian Folin, and Nate Prosser. My guess is they’ll give all four guys a solid look for the first two weeks, then send down two of the to the Iowa Wild of the AHL. To start the season, I expect to see Ballard paired with Dumba. Dumba looked exponentially better this preseason and deserves the shot to put on the Minnesota Wild sweater.
The Minnesota Wild have a merry-go-round type of situation here. To begin the year, it is being kept a secret whether Niklas Backstrom or Darcy Kuemper will start. But, those are the two goalies they’re dealing with right now. Either goalie is capable of being a stater, but i would expect a split in time until one emerges. Josh Harding starts the season both on the injured reserve, and suspended indefinitely by the team. Harding injured his foot by kicking a wall after an altercation with a teammate. Ilya Bryzgalov was released from his pro tryout on Monday, but a contract is being discussed still, whether it’s a two-way deal or an AHL deal. For now though, focus on Backstrom and Kuemper for the Minnesota Wild.
Parise – Granlund – Pominville
Vanek – Koivu – Niederreiter
Cooke – Brodziak – Coyle
Carter – Haula – Zucker
Suter – Spurgeon
Scandella – Brodin
Ballard – Dumba
In this case, Bickel, Folin, and Prosser would serve as scratches. Although, don’t be shocked to see Bickel jump into the fourth line for Carter, depending on the situation. All in all, this is a very potent lineup. Quite possibly the best lineup in Minnesota Wild franchise history. It not only has the superstar scoring abilities up front, but also incredible depth to back it up. They have a perfect mix of offensive and defensive defencemen on the back end, which will only get better with time as Dumba and Folin progress. Both Kuemper and Backstrom look capable of starting and doing a fine job, especially with the guys in front of them.
It looks to be a promising season for the Minnesota Wild, who could very well make a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals. As for the NHL as a whole, there are four incredible openers tonight. Take them all in and enjoy every second of it, because the year flies by and before you know it, it’ll be NHL Draft Day again. Good luck to everyone’s teams and may 2014-15 be a season to remember.
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at email@example.com or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.