When the Minnesota Wild lost 4-0 to the Los Angeles Kings after returning from a two-week absence due to COVID-19 protocols, things didn’t look great. However, the Wild have since won three games in a row and have outscored opponents 14-4 in that stretch. Because of this hot streak, the Wild have gone from looking like they should commit a rebuild to the playoffs looking like a real possibility. They’re just five points back of the Vegas Golden Knights for first in the North Division while having played fewer games than some of the teams they’re chasing.
But if Minnesota likes their playoff odds and wants to commit to that push, one thing they need to improve on is faceoffs. A timely faceoff win can change the tide of the game, especially in the postseason. Whether it’s an offensive zone victory or a must-need win in a penalty kill, a team needs to feel confident that their players can come in clutch.
Unfortunately for the Wild, the team has struggled at the faceoff dot all season. In 921 faceoffs this season, Minnesota has won 440 of them, which is 47.8 percent. That’s the seventh-worst percentage in the National Hockey League. To put this into perspective, they are also taking the second-most faceoffs per game in the league (61.4). When a team is taking that many faceoffs and losing over half of them, something has to change before it becomes a bigger problem in the future.
Bonino’s Winning Faceoffs, but No One Else Is
Looking at the Wild’s individual faceoff stats reveals a striking issue: only one player who’s played in the majority of games this season has a faceoff percentage.
That player is Nick Bonino.
It shouldn’t be surprising to see that Bonino leads the team in faceoff percentage by a large margin. As of Feb 24, Bonino has a 57.7 faceoff percentage on 138 draws taken. After that, things begin to drop off. Out of regular faceoff takers, Nick Bjugstad has the second-best percentage on the team at 47.7. While that’s not an awful percentage by any means, it is concerning that the rest of the Wild’s center group is losing half of their faceoffs.
The Wild are in a curious position because if they want to make the playoffs, then they need a guy like Bonino who can regularly win them. However, if the team falls out of the postseason picture, they may choose to trade him to a playoff contender who might be willing to offer valuable picks for Bonino’s services. After all, he’s tied for the 10th-best faceoff percentage in the NHL out of players who’ve taken at least 100 draws this season.
How Can the Wild Fix This Problem?
Fixing faceoff issues in Minnesota with their current personnel may be easier said than done. Some bad habits are hard to shake at a certain age, while some players may not have the talent to win faceoffs. Yes, the coaching staff could work on it more during practice, but sometimes a spade is a spade. So how can the Wild improve at faceoffs?
One option would be to go out and acquire help down the middle. If the Wild end up fighting for a playoff spot, it makes sense that they could be buyers at the deadline. Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense to blow up the team’s prospect pool for a risky deadline acquisition, but if the Wild can grab a player who’s talented at faceoffs and the price is right, they should pull the trigger.
Wild Could Inquire About Henrique
For instance, it may be worth calling the Anaheim Ducks and inquiring about Adam Henrique. Just a few days ago, Henrique was placed on waivers and has since cleared them. It’s evident that his time in Anaheim may be nearing an end.
Over the last three seasons, Henrique has shown that he is elite at the faceoff dot. Over this timespan, his faceoff percentage has not dipped below 52.8 percent. The only thing that could scare the Wild away is that Henrique is only in the second year of his five-year, $29.125 million contract. The Wild barely have any cap space, so some of their contracts would have to be moved too. It’s also important to keep in mind that young players like Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala will have to get paid in the offseason.
The only problem is Wild management would have to be certain that Henrique could play like his old self. In the 2019-20 season, Henrique tallied 26 goals and 43 points in 71 games. If he can play like that for the rest of his contract, it’s worth the deal. However, the 31-year-old has just four points in 16 games this season. Maybe a change of scenery could help Henrique, but a team like the Wild would need to be 100 percent certain that would be the case before acquiring him.
Waiting for the Prospects to Develop
If the Wild feel like it isn’t worth taking the risk that comes with acquiring a big name before the trade deadline, they could wait and see how their prospects develop before next season. Marco Rossi is one of the most talented center prospects in the league. In the 2019-20 OHL Season, Rossi finished in the top-10 for faceoff percentage with 58.5 percent. If he’s able to translate that to the NHL, along with his offensive potential, the Wild should be ecstatic.
The Wild also have Marat Khusnutdinov as another promising center prospect. Khusnutdinov was drafted in the second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft with a pick that Minnesota acquired from the Nashville Predators in the Bonino trade. Khusnutdinov, 18, is making his KHL debut in the 2020-21 season. In 12 games, he has a disappointing 33.3 faceoff percentage. However, it’s important to keep in mind he’s playing against men who are bigger and more experienced than him. Minnesota may feel like he’ll develop better faceoff skills and be more patient with him. On the other hand, if Khusnutdinov doesn’t get better at taking draws, maybe playing the wing will be in his future.
To make a long story short, the Wild need help at the faceoff dot, and there are multiple ways to address that. They can take a risk on a trade deadline player if they’re confident in their playoff chase or they can keep the status quo. The Wild can also hope that their center prospects might be able to have faceoff success in the NHL, but that requires patience, which shouldn’t be an issue if management doesn’t want to rush a rebuild. Another option would be to wait for free agency to roll around in the offseason, but who knows what that’ll look like depending on any cap changes or players signing extensions.
The fact of the matter is that the season is relatively young for the Wild and having multiple options is never a bad thing. The important thing is that they need to choose what they want to do and stick with it. Otherwise, they’re wasting time if they make the wrong choice, whatever that may be.