The 2021-22 NHL season has finally reached the NHL All-Star Break, giving teams a chance to catch their breath before the second portion of the campaign. The Minnesota Wild enter the break with a 28-10-3 record and 59 points, placing them in third place in the Central Division. They’ve also won their last six games and nine of the last 10 overall.
With that said, that doesn’t mean that the Wild can’t make improvements ahead of the March 21 NHL Trade Deadline. Despite their success, there is still room for them to improve. The team still has just over $11.3 million in cap space to spend ahead of the deadline, meaning the Wild can be real players in the trade market. Although, general manager Bill Guerin might want to make smaller deals for rental players to help with depth instead of giving up the future for a more established star who may leave after the season.
Here’s a look at three players that the Wild should target before the NHL Trade Deadline.
1. J.T. Miller, Center, Vancouver Canucks
There hasn’t been a shortage of trade rumors surrounding the Wild and Vancouver Canucks center J.T. Miller. The rumors of Minnesota’s interest in the East Palestine, Ohio-native, date back to November 2021, if not further back. With his name being at the top of a lot of the teams’ deadline wishlists, it only makes sense that the Wild should pursue him in the coming weeks.
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There’s good reason for the buzz around Miller. The 28-year-old currently paces the Canucks when it comes to goals (15) and points (44). Although he is his team’s leading goal-scorer, his playmaking is what makes him a valuable asset, proven by his 105 assists in 166 games in a Canucks uniform. If that wasn’t impressive on its own, his 1.2 primary assists per 60 minutes rank as his best average in his 10-year career.
The Wild are pretty solid up the middle, but they may want to add a center like Miller, who can consistently contribute offensively. While Joel Eriksson Ek hasn’t had an awful season by any means, fans were hoping for a bit more than the 50-point or so pace that he’s currently on. If anything, a center core of Ryan Hartman, Eriksson Ek and Miller could be more than most teams could handle.
The Hockey Writers‘ Sartaaj Bhullar recently published an article regarding potential trade destinations for Miller and listed the Wild as one of them. He said that the Canucks could be interested in prospects such as Adam Beckman and Calen Addison. As promising as both young players have looked in the American Hockey League and have the potential to be everyday NHL contributors in the future, they’re expendable if it means getting someone of Miller’s talents for a deep playoff run.
The Wild have the cap space and assets to make this deal happen, and should do what they can to pull it off if they want fans to finally have a meaningful postseason experience. Miller is also under contract for the 2022-23 NHL season, which extends Minnesota’s window.
2. Tyler Ennis, Right Wing, Ottawa Senators
Sticking with the Canadian team theme, a name who could be popular leading up to the trade deadline is Ottawa Senators winger Tyler Ennis. The 32-year-old veteran is on a one-year, $900,000 contract, and with the Senators not competing for a playoff spot it only makes sense that they’d shop him around for a draft pick.
So why should the Wild be interested? For starters, bringing in Ennis could add some versatility and depth to the roster. He’s played all three forward positions at various points in his career, which allows head coach Dean Evason to slot him in wherever he likes. Even though Ennis is a bottom-six player, he can still move up in the lineup when needed. He’s played on Ottawa’s first line for the last three games and has four goals (including a hat trick) during that span.
When it comes to his total stats this season, Ennis has five goals and 13 assists in 35 games with the Senators. Continuing the year on that pace has him projected to finish somewhere around the 40-point mark. That’s a great level of production for someone that Minnesota could slide anywhere in the lineup on any given night. He’s also proven to be a valuable asset on the power play, recording six of his points on the man advantage.
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At the end of the day, Ennis might not be the biggest name, or a player who can put the Wild over the top, but he’s the kind of body they could use for a deep playoff run. Although he only has 24 games of playoff experience, he’s produced at a 0.5-points-per-game rate over that stretch. It likely won’t cost much to bring Ennis in, which is exactly why Guerin should be giving Senators general manager Pierre Dorion a call.
3. Calvin de Haan, Defenseman, Chicago Blackhawks
Gone are the days when trading with a divisional rival was looked down upon. While they may not occur frequently, there have been a fair share of deals between rivals over recent years. With that stigma gone, the Wild should call the Chicago Blackhawks to inquire about defenseman Calvin de Haan. There likely won’t be that many notable blueliners up for grabs at the deadline, making the 30-year-old veteran a popular trade candidate.
The Wild’s defensive core has dealt with a slew of injuries throughout the 2021-22 season, with Dmitri Kulikov being the only Minnesota defenseman to play in each of the team’s 40 games. When healthy, the Wild have one of the top defense cores in the league, but they can’t afford to hope for an injury-free playoff run. There also aren’t enough reliable backend call-ups in the American Hockey League (AHL), so Guerin should at least consider a top-4 option like de Haan.
The Carp, Ontario-native, has averaged 19:20 time on ice (TOI) in 42 games, making it clear that he can handle any workload given to him on the Wild’s two bottom pairings. His offensive numbers won’t blow fans away (one goal and three assists), but he’s never one to shy away from the physical nature of the game, amassing 82 hits and 107 blocked shots. He’s proven to be a decent penalty-killer in the past as well, while the Wild’s shorthanded unit has been quite pedestrian this season. Perhaps playing for a team with championship aspirations like Minnesota could help de Haan get back to his old self.
The Wild’s cap space can also come in handy for a potential de Haan trade. Not every team looking to acquire him can fit his $4.55 million cap hit, which could increase the asking price if the Blackhawks retain salary. Meanwhile, Minnesota can easily fit him into their books and might be able to get him at a more affordable price without any retained money on Chicago’s end.
Minnesota clearly has options ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline, whether management is looking to make a big splash or a cheaper rental deal. Guerin didn’t want to “sell the farm” last year, but, at the same time, the Wild haven’t made it to the second round of the playoffs since 2014-15 and haven’t played in the Western Conference Final in nearly two decades. Something must change eventually, and if the price is right to improve the team ahead of the deadline, it’s comforting knowing that the Wild have options.