With their Game 7 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Minnesota Wild have concluded their 2020-21 season. It was a memorable one for the franchise and its fans, as the team took a giant step forward and was one win away from the second round of the playoffs.
Bill Guerin and the rest of his staff are now in offseason mode, tasked with finding ways to improve the roster once again. One area of the team that needs some improvement is the forward position.
What the Wild Have Right Now
Many teams this offseason are looking to try to surround their stars with quality role players that can fit well into the bottom six. Look at the Vancouver Canucks; they are trying to surround Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes with a supporting cast.
The Wild don’t have that problem; it’s actually the opposite. The Wild have some great depth players on their roster, including Marcus Foligno, Jordan Greenway, and Ryan Hartman. It’s the top-end talent on the team – the superstar forwards – that they might need a little more of next season.
Kirill Kaprizov is their only player that is a true superstar, and he’s only going to get better. 51 points in 55 games for the rookie has given Wild fans a taste of what having a true superstar on their roster feels like.
Kevin Fiala was solid offensively the past two seasons but has lacked the consistency needed to be a true superstar. Joel Eriksson Ek also had a breakout season with 19 goals in 56 games, but that’s still not even close to the numbers of a first-line player.
Marco Rossi and Matthew Boldy both project to be top-six forwards one day, but that could still be a few seasons away. It’s tough to throw those two into top-six roles net season and expect that to be their best path for development.
The best offensive teams in the league don’t just have one superstar – they have multiple. The Colorado Avalanche have Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. The Tampa Bay Lightning have Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point. The Toronto Maple Leafs have Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares.
The point is, you need more than one superstar to be an elite offensive team in the NHL. If you have one, the opposing team can just throw all their best defenders at that superstar, and it makes it more challenging to be effective (especially come playoff time). Vegas had a clear goal in mind during the first round – shutting down Kaprizov.
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If a team has multiple superstars, it gives the coach the flexibility to space them out, create matchup advantages, or load them up for a dynamic top line. In the playoffs against Vegas, the Wild only averaged 1.86 goals per game. They need more high-end skill to beat strong defensive teams.
What’s Available This Offseason
Looking at free agency, there isn’t a whole lot of top-six talent available. There seems to be no reason to believe that Alex Ovechkin will be leaving Washington, so that’s likely a non-starter. Same with Landeskog – it’s tough to see him leaving such a dynamic team when they have the cap space to bring him back.
It’s possible Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could hit the market, and he is an interesting name. However, with 35 points in 52 games this past season, it’s hard to say if he is a true No. 1 centre in the league.
Of course, there is always the trade route, and Jack Eichel could be a fascinating target. However, to acquire him, you’re almost guaranteed to be giving up one or two of Kaprizov, Rossi, or Boldy. The immediate return would be better (if healthy), but that’s a lot of possible value in the top six for the future to be trading away.
There will be options for Bill Guerin this offseason to explore and some key RFAs to deal with along the way. However, if this team wants to take another big step forward next season, they need to acquire more top-end offensive talent.
Sports writer covering the Minnesota Wild. Graduated with a degree in sport media, also working with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.