Wild Ready to Break Out in 2015-16

Last season, the Minnesota Wild finished sixth in the Western Conference and had their second-best season in franchise history. However, listening to some in the Wild fan base you would’ve thought last season was an absolute failure.

Last year’s finish aside, there’s a lot to be positive about. Okay, there were some negatives, too.

First, the Wild suffered their share of adversity during the 2014-15 season. The Wild survived a midseason meltdown that saw the Wild lose 11-of-13 games. That losing streak almost buried the Wild.

Halfway through the season, the Wild had an 18-18-5 (.500) record and were sitting in 12th place of the Western Conference standings. Of course, Wild fans started getting antsy. Some in the Wild fan base wanted head coach Mike Yeo fired.

On January 14, 2015, the Minnesota Wild acquired veteran goaltender Devan Dubnyk

(97-91-26, 2.69 GAA, .914 SV%) from the Arizona Coyotes for a third-round draft pick in the 2015 NHL entry.

After acquiring Dubnyk, the Wild would go on a 30-8-3 (.768) run, vaulting back into the playoff hunt.

The Wild finished the 2014-15 season with a 46-26-8 (.609) record. The Wild would beat the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Western Conference in six games to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. The Wild would again lose to the Chicago Blackhawks for the third year in a row.

Lots of Positives

Moving into the 2015-16 season, there are a lot of things for Wild fans to be positive about. The Wild finished the regular season hot, going 28-9-3.

In my opinion, the Wild are on the cusp of being a great team. For the most part, the Wild return a majority of their team from last season. If a few of the younger Wild players could pick up their point production, and the Wild can improve on the power play, they “should” improve in the standings.

All of the Wild’s top-six forwards from last season are back and should be healthy by training camp. This the same group of forwards that finished 12th in goal scoring with 227 goals. As I mentioned in another post, if a few of the younger players and veterans could score a few more goals, Minnesota could improve on that number. More goals could translate into more wins for the Wild.

Defensively, the Wild return most of their d-core from last season. This is the same d-core that helped the Wild finished 6th overall in the NHL for goals against (2.41).

Special teams

Mikael Granlund celebrates (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
Mikael Granlund celebrates (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

When it comes to the special teams play, the Wild are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Last season, the Wild’s power was anemic. The Wild finished tied for 26th overall with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

During the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Wild had the best power play scoring on 30.4 of their power play opportunities.

If the Wild could improve on their regular season power play numbers, it would probably translate to a few more wins.

Last season, the Minnesota Wild sported the league’s top penalty Kill. The Wild killed 86.3% of the opposition’s power plays. With the Wild’s returning most of their personal from last season, I see no reason why the Wild can’t continue to keep their power play numbers high.

Room for Improvement

The Minnesota Wild have a dynamic group of young forwards. A couple of these forwards have yet to realize their full potential. If a few of these young guns could have a breakout season, it could push the Wild over the top.

(Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)
(Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Nino Niederreiter came to the Minnesota Wild two season ago via trade with the New York Islanders. Last season, Niederreiter (24g-13a—37pts) had a career year in goals and was second on the team in goals. Niederreiter’s assist numbers dropped off a bit from the previous year.  If Niederreiter could add 10-20 more points this season, the Wild would definitely benefit.

Mikael Granlund is a dynamic, offensively gifted young player. Last season, Granlund set a career high in points (8g-31a—39pts), that was good for fifth overall in team points for the Wild.

Durability has been Granlund’s problem. The Oulu, Finland native has missed 33 games the past two seasons due to injury. If Granlund could stay healthy this season, it would be beneficial to the Wild.

The Wild are in good hands with Devan Dubnyk who racked up impressive numbers going (27-9-2, 1.78 GAA, .936 SV%).

Darcy Kuemper
(Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

Dubnyk is human and can’t play every game. The Wild are going to need strong, reliable play from their backup goalie Darcy Kuemper (14-12-2, 2.60 GAA, .905 SV%). Last season, Kuemper show signs of brilliance, followed up by mediocre play.

If the Wild can get consistent play from Kuemper, it would help them immensely.

Finally, the Wild are a very skilled, exciting, young hockey team. Last season,  the Wild game us a glimpse of what they’re capable of.  It will be interesting to see they’re able to improve on last season’s success and become an elite hockey team. To quote a former Minnesota Vikings quarterback, “The pieces are in place.”