Ladies and gentlemen, the Minnesota Wild play regular season hockey tonight. After what feels like an eternity, they will host the New York Rangers for their 2022-23 season/home opener at Xcel Energy Center. The game is part of a busy night in the NHL as nine other contests will also be underway at various times throughout the evening. The Rangers already have a win under their belt as the Wild will attempt to follow up a successful preseason with one of their own.
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The Wild managed to win six of their seven exhibition games while outscoring their opponents 25-8 with the help of prospect Marco Rossi, who led the entire NHL with seven assists and nine points in the preseason. His efforts were not in vain as he was informed just four days ago by general manager Bill Guerin that he and fellow prospect Calen Addison had made the opening night roster. While it didn’t come as a surprise to most fans, it was encouraging to see both young players put everything they had into making their presence felt, and contribute to the team in meaningful and impactful ways.
Minnesota Wild Projected Lineup
The opening night roster looks significantly different than the one that hit the ice in Game 6 of the playoffs exactly five months ago. In fact, only the top line is the same.
Kaprizov – Hartman – Zuccarello
Jost – Eriksson Ek – Foligno
Gaudreau – Steel – Boldy
Dewar – Rossi – Duhaime
Brodin – Spurgeon
Middleton – Dumba
Goligoski – Addison
Fleury – Gustavsson
When a trio is as dominant as the Wild’s top line was last season, there is no need to mess with it, and while the same thing could be said about the “GREEF” line composed of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Foligno, an offseason surgery has Greenway sidelined to open the season. In the meantime, Tyson Jost has been elevated to his position on the left wing with an opportunity to show everyone what he is made of.
Only half of the bottom six returns as Kevin Fiala has a new home with the Los Angeles Kings, Nick Bjugstad signed with the Arizona Coyotes, and trade deadline pickup Nic Deslauriers signed a significant deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. Filling those gaps is a trio of youngsters in Connor Dewar (who was benched that game, but played 35 games with the Wild last year), free agent signee Sam Steel, and the aforementioned 2020 ninth overall pick, Rossi.
On the back end, there are two major differences that a keen-eyed fan may notice. The first would be the third-pairing replacement of Dmitry Kulikov, who was traded to the Anaheim Ducks, with Addison, who has already started to improve their weak powerplay with a skilled offensive touch. The second, perhaps more controversial, move sent veteran goalie Cam Talbot to the Ottawa Senators in return for the unproven, but talented, Filip Gustavsson. As such, a large percentage of the Wild’s chances for another strong season rests on the shoulders of the new goalie tandem.
New York Rangers Projected Lineup
The New York Rangers opened their season with a measuring stick of a game against the always-dangerous Tampa Bay Lighting. A 3-1 victory has them buzzing as they head to St. Paul to try and start their season on a winning streak.
Kreider – Zibanejad – Kakko
Panarin – Trochek – Lafreniere
Vesey – Chytil – Goodrow
Hunt – Carpenter – Reaves
Lindgren – Fox
Miller – Trouba
Jones – Schneider
Shesterkin – Halak
The 2020 first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere has moved up to the second line tonight as youngster Vitali Kravtsov that held that position previously was injured in the first period against the Lightning. At the end of the trickle-down effect through the lineup, Dryden Hunt will slide into the fourth line after 76 games with the Rangers in 2021-22.
The top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Kappo Kakko is unchanged after a solid performance, easily being the best line of either team in their previous game. Zibanejad had a two-goal performance, one on the powerplay and one shorthanded, as a reminder that the 29-year-old is coming off of a career-best 81 points in 81 games last season and he doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
Key Players to Watch
Minnesota Wild – Kirill Kaprizov
While no one ever needs to be told to watch the electrifying Kirill Kaprizov, he may be under a little more pressure than usual to get off to a fast start this season. Everyone, except maybe the Rangers, will be looking for a return to last season’s form after amassing 108 points through 47 goals and 61 assists. In fact, he was so good that many have forgotten that it took him until the ninth game last season to get his first goal. While it’s hard to say that his six assists in the first eight games were a slow start, it definitely felt like he was struggling to find his game.
An early goal for Kaprizov, especially against a goalie as good as the reigning Vezina winner, would go a long way in pushing the Wild in the right direction. They thrived during the 2021-22 season on having a never-give-up attitude and being able to stay in every game no matter how bad the circumstances. That mentality started in game one last season and it needs to start in game one again this season. The faster that he rekindles his fire from last year, the better off the Wild will be.
New York Rangers – Igor Shesterkin
It will be a battle of Vezina Trophy winners as the 2022 winner, Igor Shesterkin, returns from a dominating 2021-22 season, facing off against Marc-Andre Fleury who won the award the season prior. Shesterkin finished the regular season last year with 36 wins in 52 starts, while leading the NHL in goals against average (2.07) and save percentage (.935). He also posted six shutouts along the way.
If there is any player on the Rangers that could put the Wild in the wrong mindset to start the season, it is Shesterkin. He has proven that his abilities in the net can control a game, breaking teams mentally with ridiculous save after ridiculous save, to the point where you are unsure if the man can ever be beaten. He can keep the Rangers in games they are being heavily outplayed everywhere else on the ice, just long enough for the other team to make a mistake. The Wild will need to stay focused and sharp if they plan on beating him.
The first game of the 2022-23 season (that matters) will be on Bally Sports North at 7:00 PM CT. Don’t miss the beginning of what could be another historic season for the Wild.
*Player statistics collected from Naturalstattrick.com, New York Rangers lines from @vzmercogliano on Twitter, Minnesota Wild lines from @Russohockey on Twitter