The Minnesota Wild struggled in the hitting department this last season. This doesn’t come as a big surprise since they’ve never really been known for that aspect of the game. The only times they would’ve been considered a physical team would’ve been back in the days of Derek Boogaard. Even in those days, it was only when Boogaard was on the ice that the hitting started.
Those days aren’t that far behind, but hockey has evolved and continues to, which means the Wild had to as well. There aren’t as many physical players anymore because the days of the enforcers are behind us. These days the Wild have two players that are considered physical, those two being Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno.
Enough but Not Enough
In these days of hockey, there are no longer enforcers or players on the team whose specialty is protecting certain players. These days players are throwing their weight around to change the momentum of the game, as they don’t have to protect players anymore.
Greenway is becoming known as a physical player, and Foligno already had that reputation before joining the Wild. They’ve been great for the Wild with some growing pains, but they could really use some help as well. Before the Wild can look to the future, however, they need to look at what they have currently.
The Up-and-Coming Jordan Greenway
Greenway has affectionately earned the nickname of “Big Rig” amongst Wild fans due to his size and his ability to throw his weight around. He used his 6-foot-6, 241-pound stature to gain the third-highest hit total on the team with 87 hits in 56 games. He had eight games where he tallied zero hits, but on the opposite side, he had five games with four hits or more.
Over the last four seasons he’s been with the Wild, he’s started to grow more and more comfortable with using his size to his advantage. He didn’t have a bad start either, in his first six games with the Wild, in his very first season, he had five hits. From that season on, he’s had hit numbers up over 50 but hit some rough spots along the way.
Improving His Hits
He really started focusing on improving his numbers after the 2018-19 season when in 81 games, he had just 57 hits while the top player, Foligno, had 206 hits in 82 games. The top three hitters on the team that season all had hit totals over 100 while Greenway was stuck in the 13th spot.
Clearly, he took that disappointing season to heart, and the very next season turned it around. He played 67 games and had 95 hits. He went from 57 hits to 95 in just one season and did it in 15 fewer games. The past two seasons, he’s managed to stay in third place for hits, quite a difference from 13th just a couple of seasons prior.
He’s continuing to use his size well and hopefully can keep it up going forward. The Wild need him to help build energy and force during the game and that’s done with a physicality which he provides. He also has the ability to move the puck well with his 26 assists, four of those came in the first five games of the season. He’s not the only player that can put up hits, his linemate is also very competent.
The Well-Established Marcus Foligno
Another player with a nickname due to his playing style is Foligno, also known as “Moose.” He’s been the number one-hitter for the past four seasons he’s been with the Wild. He’s consistently had hit numbers over 100 all of those seasons as well.
In fact, every season but this last one, he’s had over 180 hits. He may have had one drop-off this past season, but with just 39 games played, he still managed to have 109 hits. He’s the player Greenway needs to model his hitting game after. He’s a veteran player that knows how to time his hits and how to make them count. He can also score goals, with 11 this season and 15 assists as well.
Continuing His Ways
He may have had slightly fewer numbers this last season, but he had quite the drop-off in games, so his numbers were expected to follow. If he had been able to put up 200 or more hits in just 39 games, every team would be jumping to get him. His 109 is still respectable and quite remarkable.
He was 50th in the NHL for hits with just three other players above him who played fewer games but had more hits – those three being Jacob Trouba with 39 games played and 111 hits, Brandon Tanev with 32 games and 139 hits, and last, but not least, Ryan Reaves with 37 games played and 141 hits.
The Wild’s Future
That’s a look at the Wild’s current hitters, one name was left off the list on purpose. That name is Joel Eriksson Ek, and he was left off because he needs to be focusing on being the Wild’s go-to center. He’s been steadily improving over the seasons, but the Wild really need him to step up his game if they can’t find another top center.
Finding another center may be difficult, they haven’t traded for anyone yet, but they still have free agency to look at potential targets. Speaking of free agency, that’s where the Wild could really find someone to bring some physicality to the lineup and hopefully someone that’ll fit into the budget around Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala’s contracts if and when they sign.
The Wild need to go out and find someone whose cost is lower but their hits and goals are higher, which is a lot to ask. With players signing left and right, it’s hard to say who they’ll go after or who’ll even be available by the time free agency starts.
Blake Coleman would be a perfect fit. He’s 29, meaning he’s a veteran but on the younger side with some years left. He also is a center that can hit and score goals. He had 109 hits in 55 games this past season, as well as 14 goals and 17 assists for 31 total points.
He also has a value that won’t take up all of the Wild’s cap space. His last contract was $1.8 million a season, and that’s something the Wild can definitely afford and could greatly improve the physicality but also the goal scoring.
As said before, when timed right, hits can change the momentum of the game and create scoring opportunities. Having a player that can make all that happen is exactly, what they need. There were a number of names that could qualify for that position, I went with Coleman.
The Wild have a lot of choices, and more than likely will sign someone that comes as a complete surprise. Everyone is aware they need another top center, but if they can find someone that can bring physicality with them, that would be a win-win situation.
Who do you think the Wild should sign? Are they a physical enough team already? Let us know in the comments section below.
Mariah Stark (Holland) is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.