Wild’s Lack of Depth Cause for Concern

As the Minnesota Wild gear up for the 2023-24 season, fans have a prevailing sense of optimism despite failing to reach the second round for the eighth straight season. With a solid core of talent returning, the Wild are poised for another playoff berth in a weak Central Division. However, one critical aspect that could break their season is the performance of their bottom six. In a league that demands consistent contributions from all lines, they will need their role players to step up and play a pivotal role in achieving success.

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Let’s take a look at the Wild’s projected bottom six.

Projected Third Line: Marcus Foligno – Marco Rossi – Frederick Gaudreau

A third line of Marcus Foligno, Marco Rossi, and Frederick Gaudreau is a solid line as each player is great on the defensive side of the puck and individually they bring a different element to the game. But do they provide anything offensively?

Foligno plays a 200-foot game and excels in a forechecking role. He has been a big part of Minnesota’s penalty kill over the last number of years and has also become somewhat of a threat offensively. His presence in front of the net creates chaos, which leads to scoring chances for his teammates. He only managed seven goals in 2022-23 but if he can find a way to return to his 2021-22 form (23 goals, 19 assists), it would be a big help for the Wild’s search for depth scoring.  

Marcus Foligno, Minnesota Wild
Marcus Foligno, Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Rossi on the other hand, is very different than Foligno. Standing at just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, he is a skilled playmaking centreman who has yet to translate his elite creativity and passing ability to the NHL level. Scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace in the American Hockey League (AHL), he is very patient with the puck on his stick and always seems to be in the right spot at both ends of the ice. 

But in 19 NHL games last season Rossi only managed one assist. With a full training camp this coming season, you would hope that he will be able to settle in at the NHL level and make an impact, but we have yet to see anything to prove this to be true.

Related: Minnesota Wild’s Foligno & Zuccarello First in Line for Extensions

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Gaudreau is the only consistent player in the Wild’s projected bottom-six who could potentially make his way into the top-six if someone is injured or if the lineup needs a shake-up. He is the definition of a journeyman. His lack of size and scoring ability led him to be undrafted and after six years up and down between the ECHL, AHL and NHL, he has found himself in a steady NHL role with the Wild.

Last season he scored 19 goals and 19 assists in 82 games played. If the Wild can get similar production from Gaudreau in a bottom-six role this season he could be the saving grace that this team needs at the bottom of their lineup.  

Projected Fourth Line: Pat Maroon – Brandon Duhaime – Connor Dewar

The Wild’s fourth line has a history of being filled with ferocious forecheckers who hit anything that stands in their way. Matt Johnson, Derek Boogard, Stephane Veilleux and Ryan Reaves are some of the toughest forwards to play the game in the past 20 years and Minnesota has been home to them all. This year Minnesota becomes home to three-time Cup champion and arguably the toughest player in the league, Pat Maroon. 

Maroon is on the back nine of his career being 35 years old and playing the style of hockey he plays. At this stage of his career, he was not acquired for his offensive abilities. He is no longer a great skater, but he is good at handling the puck along the boards and is a presence in front of the opposing team’s net. He throws his body around and is surprisingly good at taking the puck off his opponents, as he registered 172 hits and 26 takeaways last season. Most importantly, he is known for standing up for his teammates and is not afraid to drop the gloves. 

Pat Maroon Tampa Bay Lightning
Pat Maroon, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Projected fourth-line center, Brandon Duhaime, plays the game the way you would want any fourth-liner to; a big body centreman who is hard on the forecheck, reliable on the defensive side of the puck, and can play on the penalty kill if called upon. Heading into just his third season in the NHL, he has not produced very much offensively, scoring just 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in 127 games. Although many fourth-liners around the league do not produce at a much better rate, the Wild will need an offensive bump from Duhaime as the third line remains a question mark. 

The one player with offensive upside on this line is Connor Dewar. Like Duhaime, Dewar is heading into his third season with Minnesota. Last season he played 81 games, most of those games on the fourth line. Known for his work ethic and smooth skating ability, Dewar has the potential to take another step offensively, if he improves his on-puck play. He often rushes the play instead of taking the extra second to find the open man or take the open shot. Taking more shots on a line that has two net-front players in Duhaime and Maroon could be a recipe for success for a line that looks to have very little offensive upside. 

Uncertainty Looms

The Wild stand at a crossroads of anticipation and doubt. While the team’s enduring core fuels hope for a playoff resurgence, a pivotal hurdle looms larger with the lack of scoring threats in the bottom six. The projected third line offers a blend of defensive prowess and individual strength, but concerns persist regarding sustained offensive impact. Gaudreau’s reliability shines, but Rossi’s NHL adaptation remains uncertain. 

Shifting to the fourth line, Maroon’s veteran presence augments grit alongside Duhaime’s dependability and Dewar’s latent potential. Still, an undercurrent of offensive limitations is a potential vulnerability, casting a shadow over the Wild’s upcoming campaign.

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