5 Wild Players Having Career Seasons in 2021-22

The Minnesota Wild‘s 2021-22 season has been filled with highs and lows. At times they have looked like one of the best teams in the league. Other times, the Wild have gone on some frustrating losing skids. Still, they’re 22-10-3 through 35 games, which has them six points out of the top spot in the Central Division.

Several players are having career campaigns that have helped the Wild find success this season. Without those performances, the team would likely be in a far worse spot. That’s why it’s important to recognize those players, and some might break a franchise record that dates back to the early 2000s.

Keeping that in mind, here’s a look at five Wild players who are on pace for career performances in the 2021-22 NHL season.

1. Kirill Kaprizov

This might be cheating a bit because this is only Kirill Kaprizov’s second NHL season, but it is already looking a lot better than his first, which was impressive enough. The dynamic Russian captured the 2020-21 Calder Trophy after recording 51 points in 55 games, which translates to 0.93 points per game (PPG); in an 82-game season, he was on pace for around 76 points.

Jump ahead to 2021-22, and Kaprizov is playing like a seasoned veteran. He’s tied for the team lead in goals with 16 and leads all Wild players with 28 assists. He has 44 points in 34 games ( 1.29 PPG), and that’s the sort of play that has helped Minnesota move up the standings.

Kirill Kaprizov Minnesota Wild
Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

What’s more impressive is that Kaprizov is on pace to beat a couple of franchise records. Former Minnesota great Pierre-Marc Bouchard set the record for assists in a season with 50 during the 2007-08 campaign. No other player in franchise history has hit the half-century mark in that category, but that could change by the end of the season. Kaprizov is averaging 0.82 assists per game (APG) and can play a maximum of 81 games this season- he missed one game already. Assuming he accomplishes that and stays on pace, he’s projected to crush Bouchard’s record with 66 assists.

Related: Checking in on the Wild’s 2021 Draft Picks

He can also break the record for most points in a season. Marian Gaborik set that record during the 2007-08 NHL season when he finished with 83 points and became the only Wild player ever to hit the 80-point mark. Kaprizov is also on pace (104 points in 81 games) to demolish Gaborik’s total. Doing so would not only give him a sophomore campaign to be proud of, but it could go down in history as the best season by any Wild player. That alone is exciting.

2. Marcus Foligno

The 2021-22 NHL season marks Marcus Foligno’s 11th campaign. He’s been a solid bottom-six contributor throughout his career, providing his teams with both physicality and the occasional goal. Even though this is his third season with the Wild, he’s quickly become a fan favorite because of his leadership on and off the ice.

He’s now in the middle of a career year in goal scoring. Before 2021-22, Foligno’s career-high was 13 goals when he was a member of the Buffalo Sabres nearly five seasons ago. This season, the 30-year-old Buffalo native has 14 goals in 35 games, which is on pace for 33 if things continue down this path.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, Foligno is also on pace to break his previous bests in assists (15) and points (26). His current trajectory has him on track to finish with 33 goals and 21 assists for 54 points. That’s more than double his previous best point total, and the Wild are thrilled with his play this season. Minnesota also has him locked down for the next two seasons at an average annual value (AAV) of $3.1 million. If he manages to be a 50-point player for the duration of his contract, his deal will hold great value.

3. Ryan Hartman

When the Wild signed Ryan Hartman to a two-year, $3.8 million contract in July 2019, the hope was that he could help bolster the team’s bottom two lines. Initially, that’s exactly what he did. He recorded 42 points in 120 games (0.35 PPG), which was perfectly adequate for his role. His efforts earned him a three-year, $5.1 million extension in July 2021, with hopes that he could continue to produce.

Ryan Hartman Minnesota Wild
Ryan Hartman, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Well, it turns out that he’s surpassed all expectations so far. Hartman has found tremendous chemistry with both Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, racking up 30 points in 35 games. For reference, the best point total of his career was 31 during the 2016-17 season as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s now one point shy of tying that in 41 fewer games.

Related: Wild Check-In: Zuccarello, Kaprizov, Boldy & Duhaime

What’s also been impressive is that Hartman has shown consistency. He’s never gone more than two consecutive games without a point this season, which only happened twice. He’s now on pace for over 70 points, which makes this one of the most surprising performances in a long time. There’s always the chance that this season is an outlier. However, there’s also the argument that he just needed the right linemates to reach his full potential. Either way, he is having the best season of his career by far, and all eyes will be on him to see if he can stay on pace for the rest of his contract.

4. Mats Zuccarello

Mats Zuccarello Minnesota Wild
Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Like Kaprizov and Hartman, Zuccarello joins his linemates in having a “career year.” The former undrafted winger joined the Wild on a five-year, $30 million contract during the 2019 offseason in what was a rare move by an organization that doesn’t usually splurge in free agency. Things started well in his first season in St. Paul, with 35 points over 42 games in a COVID-shortened campaign. He was scoring at a 0.83 PPG rate, the best pace of his career, and fans were excited to see what he could do when the league returned to an 82-game format.

Zuccarello has kicked off the first half of the 2021-22 season in style, playing at better than a point-per-game pace. While he’s dealt with injuries, he still has 32 points in 29 games. It might not be Kaprizov’s level of production, but Zuccarello’s 1.10 PPG rate projects him to finish with more than 80 points for the first time in his 13-year career. He’s set to turn 35 years old in September, and most players’ production usually declines around this age, so it’s fairly impressive that he could have a career year at this stage of his journey. There’s no telling how long he’ll keep it up, but certainly, he doesn’t intend to slow down.

5. Jon Merill

When Jon Merrill signed a one-year contract with the Wild in the offseason, it marked his fourth team since the 2019-20 NHL season. After all, he has rarely been seen as more than a bottom-pairing defenseman since he was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2010. Nevertheless, the Wild needed help on their backend after buying out Ryan Suter in the offseason, and Merrill was supposed to help with the transition going forward.

Jon Merrill Minnesota Wild
Jon Merrill, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It turns out that the Oklahoma City native has played better than advertised. He’s played in each of Minnesota’s 35 games, already tying his career-high of three goals. He also has eight assists, giving him 11 points and a 0.31 PPG pace. While it isn’t a mind-blowing number, this level of production could see him hit the 20-point range for the first time in his career.

Merrill’s first half wowed Wild management, leading to a three-year, $3.6 million extension on Jan. 11, 2022. A $1.2 million AAV is a steal, especially for a player who has continuously stepped up when players like Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin have been sidelined at various points of the season. Merrill might not be the flashiest or even most well-known player on the roster, but his importance to the Wild’s early success is evident. As long as he can continue contributing where needed, he could be a reliable piece for years to come.

We can’t know if the above players will continue their career campaigns in the second half of the 2021-22 NHL season. While these types of performances provide a lot of optimism, they aren’t always sustainable, and that could be the case during a season as unpredictable as this one. Keeping that in mind, this quintet may continue firing on all cylinders. If that’s the case, it may not just be a career year for them but also the Wild organization.

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