The Minnesota Wild just passed the quarter mark of the season at 24 games played. They’ve had a great start to their season with a record of 17-6-1, one of the best in the NHL. With a quarter of the season done, it’s time to see what players have stepped up and earned themselves a quarterly award. These awards will include the best rookie, MVP, biggest surprise, and the most disappointing.
Wild’s Rookie of the Year: Rem Pitlick
This award could easily have gone to two players who’ve worked very hard to earn their respective spots in the lineup. Brandon Duhaime was the first name that came to mind for this award, as he had a great training camp that landed him his spot on the roster. He’s played in all 24 of the Wild’s games and has a total of eight points. As Duhaime was showing his moves, fellow forward Rem Pitlick started to get hot.
Pitlick made his debut for the Wild during the last week of October but only played one game, following that he was put into COVID protocols along with Mats Zuccarello. He missed four games while in protocols, but once he returned, he was ready to play. He didn’t tally points in his first game back, but in the second game, he did. He continued this pace of a point or more every other game that included his first NHL goal that led to his first hat trick in the Wild’s second meetup with the Seattle Kraken. One of those goals was also credited as the game-winner.
He’s scored five goals and assisted on five others for 10 points in 15 games for the Wild. He’s a speedy player with quick hands that once he finds an opening can work his way through straight past the goaltender. He’s earned the award of rookie of the year so far with his skill and ability to stay out of the penalty box. That’s one area Duhaime needs to fix before he can battle for this award later in the season.
Wild’s Most Valuable Player: Kirill Kaprizov
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise being Kirill Kaprizov is one of the faces of the franchise and his play is typically outstanding. He’s had somewhat of a slow start to this season but it’s no different than when he started last season, only then he was still a rookie. Now that he’s played over 50 NHL games, other teams know to cover him but he also knows that creates open places for his linemates to be.
A valuable player is one who has the ability to score like Kaprizov does, but can also create opportunities for his linemates to score. His main job is to provide offense but having a well-rounded game is important, and he also helps out on defense when he can. Those are the reasons he is the Wild’s most valuable player so far this season — it also helps he’s their points leader by a sizable margin of eight points over second-place Ryan Hartman. Many could argue that Hartman deserves the spot instead of Kaprizov and it did come quite close. Hartman has taken a big step forward this season and become a real goal scorer, with the team lead of 13 goals, but there are two main differences between these players.
The differences that set Kaprizov apart from Hartman are his skill on the power play. He has five power-play points this season, and the ability to stay away from the penalty box. Kaprizov has spent just eight minutes in the penalty box over 24 games while Hartman’s spent 23 minutes in the same number of games. Sometimes penalties are a necessity to stop a goal, but scorers can’t score while in the penalty box and his talents would be better suited on the ice. However, Hartman did earn a different award.
Wild’s Most Surprising: Ryan Hartman
Again, with this Wild team, a number of players have been surprising this season, but one player comes to mind first. Ryan Hartman maybe didn’t get the most valuable player award but he did get the most surprising. Last season, he had more assists than goals but this season it’s been flipped. Wild fans knew Hartman was capable of scoring goals but he’s blown everyone away. He’s scored 13 times with four of them being game-winners. He’s stepped into this role with ease and had a five-game point streak before being stumped by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In past seasons the Wild hadn’t been focused on shots, this season has changed that for the better. What’s most surprising about this is Hartman leads the way with 86 of those shots, and his goal scoring has shown the benefits. Other than his goals, the number of multi-point games he’s tallied has also been impressive. He’s snatched multiple points in four games this season with his highest being three points against the New Jersey Devils. His offensive game has been great, but he’s capable of playing some defense as well. In 24 games, he’s blocked 12 shots and he’s had 10 takeaways — not huge numbers but helpful all the same.
Wild’s Most Disappointing: Kevin Fiala
This was probably the most difficult area to choose, the majority of the Wild’s players haven’t been disappointing except for certain small details. The reason Kevin Fiala was chosen is the number of goals he has — or lack thereof. A lot was expected of him this season and so far he hasn’t produced. He’s scored just three goals compared to 20 goals last season. Of course, there’s still a long way to go but he scored 20 goals in 50 games last season and the Wild are nearly halfway to 50 games, but he is not halfway to 20 goals. This shortage of goals isn’t from lack of trying; he’s pushed himself quite hard to score goals but he’s been stonewalled. He’s second on the team in shots on net with 84, so his shot totals are not the reason he’s been struggling. Whatever the reason may be, he needs to figure it out soon or the Wild may be looking to find someone else to fill his spot.
Future of Wild’s Season
The Wild have 58 games left of the regular season and a lot of teams to face. They have a long way to go but so far, they’ve done quite well. They’re currently tied for fourth in the league and are on a winning streak of six straight games. The Wild will need Pitlick, Hartman, and Kaprizov to continue improving their games, but they also need Fiala to step up in a big way. The final thing the team will need to fine tune as they continue their season is goaltending. Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen have been improving their stats over the last few games while finding ways to win, which is what the Wild will need to continue to this streak.
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Mariah Stark (Holland) is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.