After starting the 2020-21 season 3-1, the Minnesota Wild’s holes in the lineup are beginning to glare after two straight losses. The biggest issues right now that surround the Wild are the holes down the middle with the lack of center depth and the inability to finish on their offensive opportunities. Both winger Mat Zuccarello and center Marco Rossi can help provide stability in these areas and fill the voids that currently plague the Wild when they return from injuries.
There is no doubt it hurt the Wild when it was announced that Zuccarello would miss training camp and the start of the season, he’s out indefinitely, but it looks like he could be coming back soon. It was also subsequently announced in January that Rossi, the Wild’s first-round draft selection in the 2020 NHL Draft, would be out indefinitely with an upper-body injury.
The Return of Mats Zuccarello: Finishing, Playmaking & More
The Wild will get a big push when Zuccarello returns to the Wild’s lineup. Not only does he bring the playmaking element that will help generate more offense, but he also was surprisingly one of the team’s best finishers in the 2019-20 campaign. Looking at Hockey-Viz’s finishing charts, which display how many goals a player scored versus how many they were expected to score based on the location, shot-type, and whether it was a rush or rebound, Zuccarello lands second on the list. He was the second-best finisher for the Wild last season scoring 5.4 more goals than he was expected to score.
According to Evolving-Hockey, the Wild’s 2.5 expected goals for per hour ranks eighth in the NHL. In contrast, the Wild’s 2.17 goals for per hour ranks 16th. This displays that the Wild are struggling to finish on their scoring opportunities. Zuccarello will positively impact this with his shooting excellence and will hopefully help the Wild get this number back up to where it was last season.
The Wild really could use Zuccarello’s playmaking — it is something they definitely don’t have enough of. A combination of his playmaking and vision could really complement the youngsters on the team. While he wasn’t bad by any means last season, it was somewhat of an underwhelming first season with the Wild.
This all goes without saying that Zuccarello will be a huge boost to the Wild’s awful power play that currently ranks 29th in the NHL. This is if Zuccarello can reclaim his elite status on the power play that he had with the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars before coming to the Wild through free agency.
There is no doubt that he will give the team a big boost when he returns from injury. The question that remains is where he will be slotted in the lineup. It will be interesting to see if he gets a top-six role or whether he will be relegated to the third line.
Marco Rossi: Helps Strengthen The Wild’s Center Depth
The Wild’s 2020 first-round pick Rossi was expected to make the opening night roster after coming back from the World Junior Championship. However, that plan quickly changed when it was announced he was out indefinitely. The Wild’s center situation is disastrous, and with all due respect to Nick Bjugstad, it’s a problem when he’s centering the first line on an NHL team.
Given the team’s situation down the middle, there is a spot for Rossi anywhere on the roster when he is able to make his NHL debut when he recovers. It is unclear where he will slot in the roster, but he will most definitely be a huge boost and could provide some stability to the Wild’s expected center situation.
Similar to Kirill Kaprizov, expectations need to be tempered for Rossi when he is able to put that Wild sweater on for the first time. While he is known as one of the most NHL-ready prospects that was drafted in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, it is unknown how he will respond to this big transition from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) to the NHL.
The 19-year-old center recorded 39 goals, 81 assists, and 120 points in 56 games for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL. He was considered a draft steal and somehow slid to No. 9 for the Wild. He’s a special talent and is already the Wild’s best prospect aside from Kaprizov.
There is no doubt he will at least be given a shot at a top-six role, but if he were to flourish — like Kaprizov — it would be a huge lift for the Wild.
While the Wild are 4-3 to start the season, two of the wins featured late third-period comebacks. The team is struggling out of the gate and both Zuccarello and Rossi will help fix some of the Wild’s issues. It is unknown how long these two will be out, but hopefully they can recover soon so they can crack the lineup.
(All Data and Information Via Evolving-Hockey, Hockey-Reference & Elite-Prospects)
Aaron Heckmann covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.