As a new season approaches, the Minnesota Wild continue to put the finishing touches on their roster before their first game. The roster isn’t the only thing that requires some changes though, as they’ll need to improve several parts of their game to have a chance at a successful season. They’ve already done some things to hopefully get better, but there’s always more.
The Wild re-signed several key players during the offseason and let some contracts go that would not benefit them in the future. They also made a decision that could greatly affect their season in a negative way but hopefully, it ends up being a key to their success.
Wild Have to Fix Special Teams
It goes without saying that the Wild’s special teams last season were pretty disappointing. They’d have bouts of greatness only for it to fizzle out and not stay consistent. If they want to have a winning season and make it far in the postseason, that same inconsistency can’t continue. Their power play took a while to figure things out but it looked better than the penalty kill.
Their power play was 20.5 percent and had them right in the middle of the pack. The Wild did score 53 goals while a man up but it should’ve been more. Going into this new season they’ll have to find a way to get their power play units to be more productive. As they’re still searching for a forward, they’ll need to find someone to take Kevin Fiala’s place on the power play. He bumped between the first and second unit and it’ll take a lot to fill that spot.
While Fiala spent most of his special team’s time on the power play, he also spent a significant amount of time on the penalty kill, another area they struggled in. The Wild finished near the bottom of the NHL in penalty kill percentage with just 76.1 percent of penalties killed. In past years that might have been satisfactory, but with how strong the Wild’s defense was, their penalty kill should’ve been a lot better.
The biggest area they had problems with on the penalty kill was allowing the extra opposing forward to sneak in behind their defense and be left all alone. Many of the Wild’s powerplay goals they surrendered came from a forward who was waiting on the post where they could slide it easily past Cam Talbot, Kaapo Kähkönen, or Marc-André Fleury. If the Wild want to win more games they have to address this issue as well as their special teams as a whole.
Wild Need Fleury to Step Up
This one isn’t so hard to figure out, as the Wild’s goaltending was a clear roller coaster last season. Talbot would do outstanding for a while and then they’d hit a rough patch. Kähkönen came in and saved the day a few times but he could only do so much and the same could be said for Fleury – at least towards the end of the regular season.
Once the postseason hit that was a different story. Fleury did not do as well as everyone expected but it also wasn’t predicted that nearly the entire team would fall apart in front of him. Now to this upcoming season, the Wild were expecting to have Fleury and Talbot work as a veteran tandem that could’ve been very good for them. However, things did not go as planned as Talbot was traded to the Ottawa Senators.
The Wild did get goaltender Filip Gustavsson in return, so Fleury does have someone to back him up – but Gustavsson’s no Talbot. Fleury was supposed to share the starting duties 50/50 with Talbot this coming season so he wouldn’t have to be in the net all the time. It would’ve been great for the Wild, who would’ve had the option to rotate every night or go with the hot goaltender at the time but still have a great veteran prepared as a backup if things started to turn south. Now it’ll be more of a 60/40 split or even 70/30 depending on how things go with newcomer Gustavsson.
Fleury still appears capable of being the primary starter but the reality is, as he gets older, it’s going to wear more on his body. Wild fans didn’t get to see much of him since he played just a short time to end the 2021-22 regular season and of course, the early exit from the postseason left a sour taste in everyone’s mouths. He’ll have a chance to redeem himself this season and Wild fans will be able to make a more accurate judgment if he was worth his new contract or not.
Wild Need Improved Faceoffs
It seems to be a recurring problem with the Wild season after season, they always need to improve their center ice position. They have strong centers in Ryan Hartman, Joel Eriksson Ek, Frederick Gaudreau, and Tyson Jost along with a host of others that can fill in when needed. They all do a great job but can’t seem to have strong percentages when it comes to faceoffs. While winning faceoffs is always important, there are certain ones that are more important than others.
This is something that’ll be key to the Wild having a successful season, if they can get stronger in the faceoff dot, they’ll have more opportunities to score which translates to winning more games. Out of their main centers, Gaudreau had the best winning percentage with 50 percent out of 922 opportunities. Next was Eriksson Ek, followed by Hartman and Jost. Hartman’s doing pretty well considering his main position is actually wing and not a center.
Eriksson Ek is the future of their center core and he’s been steadily improving his faceoff percentages each season. The Wild will rely on him to continue getting better, especially in 2022-23, as he’s a fixture on the GREEF line and they were starting to become quite the offensive trio throughout last season. If he can step up his faceoff percentage, that should lead to more goals for his entire line.
Wild’s Upcoming Season
In order for the Wild to have a successful 2022-23 season, they’ll need to focus on these three things as well as a few other issues. The most important fix that needs to happen is their special teams. Secondly, their goaltenders have to step up into their new roles and perform. The third and final thing is improving their faceoff percentages, which can lead to more goals and more wins.
The Wild had a successful 2021-22 regular season, and they’ll want to do even better in 2022-23. That includes the playoffs, as they’ll be expecting a much better result than this last one. If they can follow through on these three keys, they’ll be on their way to another successful season.
Mariah 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.