The Minnesota Wild have had a number of players who stepped up and played very successfully through the first portion of the season. However, with success, there are also struggles and they had a few players who will be looking to come back with a vengeance in this new year. Due to injuries to their starting goaltender Cam Talbot, defenseman Jared Spurgeon, and forwards Joel Eriksson Ek, Nick Bjugstad, and most recently Kirill Kaprizov, the team had to do some shuffling.
Because of the shuffling, Victor Rask would’ve originally made this list but was moved to the taxi squad and more than likely will not be brought back up unless absolutely necessary due to his subpar performance this whole season. Depending on how things work out, he may not be an issue in any more games unless the Wild desperately need to bring him back up. Especially with the team calling up their hot young prospects, Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy, who could potentially be up for the long run. Despite the call-ups and flip-flopping of lines, there are still players who need to bounce back.
Kevin Fiala was lights out in his first nearly full season with the Wild in 2019-20 and last season wasn’t horrible either. This season, however, he has really struggled and everyone has taken notice. The hard part with him is he’s on pace to have a decent season, but it’s still not up to expectations. He was anticipated to have a killer year in goals scored as he had in seasons past. The frustration in his lack of scoring bubbled up into his game at times, and it could be seen especially in the shootouts.
One area he’s been exceptionally good at this season has been his shots on goal. He sits in third place on the team with 105 shots, just five shots behind both second-place Ryan Hartman and first-place Kirill Kaprizov, who are tied with 110 shots each. He’d more than likely be way ahead of the others if his shots that hit the pipes were counted. He’s hit the pipes almost more than anyone else in the league.
His need for improvement isn’t nearly as drastic as some others but the Wild could really use for him to get on a goal-scoring streak. If he doesn’t get things moving and continue on pace, his days with this team may be numbered. He did get a good start in the Winter Classic with the final goal of the game that led to a frenzied last five minutes as the Wild scrambled to try to tie it. Hopefully, that’ll be a jumpstart to a great rest of the season.
Jordan Greenway is a contradiction of sorts. He was expected to have a big season in terms of points and physicality. He’s disappointed in points with nine in 26 games, as he’s not on pace to match what he did last season. In fact, he’d be lucky to get half of that. He has 33 shots on goal, which ranks as one of the lowest amongst Wild forwards. His offensive game is not up to what it has been in seasons past. His biggest fault this season, apart from the issue with scoring, has been injury problems. Obviously, there’s not much he can do about that and it has put a slight damper on his game, but he’s been able to make a comeback. He’ll have to do that again but this time it’ll be a return from COVID protocol and not an injury.
#mnwild forward Jordan Greenway did not practice today (NHL COVID-19 Protocol).— Minnesota Wild PR (@mnwildPR) January 3, 2022
His game isn’t all bad, what he’s lacked in points he’s made up for in hits. His physicality has increased quite a bit. He’s on pace to have over 100 hits this season, if he gets to that number, it’d be a career-high. His hits are important because they have the power to change the momentum of the play or even the game in the Wild’s favor. Looking over his play, the only stats that aren’t up to expectations are his points. As far as stats players don’t want high numbers in, like time spent in the penalty box and giveaways, he’s doing well. He’s recorded 17 penalty minutes and had three giveaways, a small number many Wild players could aspire to. The next and final player on this list could learn from Greenway’s defensive game.
With Frederick Gaudreau being a new addition in the offseason, it was difficult to know what to expect of him and how he’d fit into the lineup. He was brought in to help fill their gaping holes at the center ice position. He bounced between all four lines before finally floating mostly on the third line between wing and center. However, it was anticipated he’d be at higher numbers than he is now. He hasn’t had a bad season overall, he matched his career-high in points already, but he needs to do more in terms of scoring.
The real trouble with him is his number of giveaways, he’s had 17 in 26 games. Like his teammates Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello, and Fiala, he gets too cute with his passing plays, and the puck gets picked off mid-pass or taken right off his own stick. It would be great for the Wild if he could clean up that part of his game specifically. He’s had a rough start to the new year with a giveaway in each game he’s played. He has a lot of work to do, and hopefully, he’ll start soon.
Wild Start Things Right
The Wild may have lost the Winter Classic but they looked like a whole new team against the Boston Bruins, and in a sense, they were. They were without Talbot, Eriksson Ek, Spurgeon, and Greenway, but the Wild added Kaprizov to that list. He left their game against the Bruins after a hit in the second period and didn’t return due to an upper-body injury; the severity of the injury was not detailed nor was how long he could be out for.
Despite being without those key players, they tallied their first win since Dec. 9, and they did it with the help of strong goaltending from their backup Kaapo Kahkonen and the rookies, Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi as well as Connor Dewar. These players can’t do this alone and they’ll need Fiala, Greenway, and Gaudreau to bounce back and have a strong finish to the year to get this team where it has the potential to be, in the playoffs.
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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.