Another month of stellar hockey has the Minnesota Wild leading the Western Conference with a blistering overall record of 32-11-5. January was more of the same as the team benefitted from contributions by the entire roster and used a combination of rock solid defense and high-energy offense.
Third Star: Jordan Schroeder
In many ways, Jordan Schroeder has assumed the role that was left vacant by Justin Fontaine. Throughout the month of January, he’s proven to be a player that can fulfill his duties reliably with any combination of linemates. A former darling of the Minnesota high school and college hockey scene, Bruce Boudreau has entrusted Schroeder with increased playing time and a larger role.
Schroeder’s emergence has created yet another option for Boudreau to use where he sees fit. He can alter the pace of any line throughout a game and is a great insurance policy in case one of the Wild’s wingers gets hurt or has an off night.
Schroeder is a restricted free agent after the season. His motivation to prove he belongs as a mainstay on an NHL roster has benefitted Minnesota immensely as he’s turned himself into a valuable asset.
Second Star: Chris Stewart
A jovial character, Chris Stewart’s Wild reunion has gone about perfectly. After being acquired at the trade deadline in 2014-15, fans quickly found appreciation for the way he played only to see him sign with the Anaheim Ducks in the offseason. Off the ice, he’s still the same old Stewie, but his impact on the ice has exceeded expectations in January.
After a somewhat tumultuous opening to the season, Stewart is starting to bring balance to the scoresheet by making the most of his fourth-line minutes.
Stewart goal pic.twitter.com/8SCGfNEAyc
— GIF Grand Maester (@myregularface) January 20, 2017
A fourth-liner with the audacity to even attempt a backhand toe-drag has obviously found the comfort zone.
In addition, he gave 19-year-old Lawson Crouse his “welcome to the NHL” moment after the rookie took the liberty of jawing with Mikko Koivu during a scuffle. Stewart provides much more than protection, but he continues to show the Wild will not be intimidated, let alone by a wannabe tough guy teenager.
Stewart on Crouse:”I’m big on respect in this league. I didn’t like the way that went down at the end of the 2nd. I addressed it” #mnwild
— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) January 20, 2017
Read the scouting report, young man. Chris Stewart isn’t the guy you want to test at this point in your career.
It’s a familiar theme this season, but you have to credit the coach for streamlining Stewart’s return to the Wild. The pair has a mutually beneficial relationship that is paying dividends for the rest of the team.
First Star: Mikael Granlund
This is the season Wild fans have been waiting for from Granlund. He is well on pace for career bests in nearly every category, but it’s his 42 points in 48 games that prove he is in the midst of a breakout season. Coupled with his current nine-game point streak, Granlund has been among the Wild’s most consistent this season.
So, what’s the difference this year?
Well, he’s no longer being manhandled by larger players. That’s a start. In addition, he’s tied for 11th in the NHL in assists and has displayed the type of playmaking ability that made him the ninth overall pick in 2010.
The other aspect of his improved point production is the fact that he is in a contract year. Let’s not forget that Granlund took a so-called “bridge deal” two years ago with plans of parlaying it into a more lucrative long-term contract. He’s had the perfect season thus far in terms of driving up his value.
This summer, he’ll be a restricted free agent. If his current offensive production holds steady and he cracks the 70-point plateau, GM Chuck Fletcher will have no choice but to open the checkbook. It’s impossible to say at this point what the exact dollar amount might be, but expect the number to start with a five.