Before the 2021-22 NHL season began, The Hockey Writers’ Minnesota Wild staff got together a roundtable to predict what the team’s campaign could look like. Questions ranged from what offseason move would end up looking like the best to whether or not Kirill Kaprizov could live up to his massive contract in his second NHL season. As usual with predictions, it’s always fun to look back at them to see how many we got right or missed entirely.
There’s no better time to revisit preseason predictions than the mid-season, so here’s a look at how ours are holding up now that the Wild have 38 games under their belt.
Kirill Kaprizov Lives up to His Contract
Kaprizov entered the 2021-22 NHL season with people expecting a big encore after his promising rookie campaign. The dynamic Russian wowed fans in his debut NHL season, finishing the campaign with 51 points in 55 games, which earned him the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. He was promptly rewarded with a five-year, $45 million contract over the offseason. That’s a lot of money for any player, so it isn’t too surprising that we wondered if he could live up to the hype that came with his new price tag.
Fortunately for Minnesota fans, Kaprizov has been worth every penny this season. We predicted at our roundtable that his play would reflect his $9 million average annual value (AAV), and he hasn’t let us down. He already has 17 goals and 32 assists in his first 37 games of the season, with his 49 points seating him within the top 10 when it comes to league scoring. Assuming he doesn’t miss another game and stays on his 1.32 points-per-game (PPG) pace, he’s projected to finish the season with 107 points, good enough to be a new Wild single-season record.
Goligoski as Minnesota’s Best Offseason Move
Another topic discussed at the roundtable centered around what was the Wild’s best offseason move. Even though the team wasn’t too busy during the summer months, they did make a handful of notable transactions. The biggest one was the buying out of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise’s contracts back in early July.
Even though that move helped move Minnesota toward a new era, the signing of veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski to a one-year, $5 million contract was the one that we thought was best. We also predicted that he was the most suitable player to fill Suter’s void on the blueline. Goligoski’s name value might not be as high as the former’s, however, his resume as a former Stanley Cup champion certainly raised Wild fans’ expectations regarding his arrival.
It turns out that we were right about Goligoski’s potential with his new team. After putting up 22 points in 56 games with the Arizona Coyotes in 2020-21, the 36-year-old already has 25 points in 33 games this season. His past performances indicate that this level of production likely isn’t sustainable, however, his current play has him on pace for a career-high 59 points. Not only would that be a personal accomplishment for him, but it would also surpass the previous Wild single-season record by a defenseman (51) achieved twice by Suter.
Aside from his impressive offensive campaign, Goligoski has also blocked 44 shots while throwing out 26 hits. He ranks second on the time when it comes to plus/minus rating (plus-22), and leads all Wild players with 2.3 defensive point shares. If Minnesota is to go on a deep playoff run this season, Goligoski must continue his fantastic play.
Talbot and Kahkonen’s Crease Share
The 2020-21 NHL season was an interesting one when it came to the Wild’s goaltending split. Cam Talbot was brought in to be the team’s starting netminder, but injuries early in the campaign held him to just 33 games played. He still looked good in his appearances, finishing the year with a 19-8-5 record, .915 save percentage (SV%), 2.63 goals-against average (GAA) and a pair of shutouts. Meanwhile, then-rookie Kaapo Kahkonen made 24 appearances in goal, going 16-8-0 with a .902 SV%, 2.88 GAA and two of his own shutouts.
Despite Talbot having superior stats, we still wondered what their crease share was going to look like. We were split right down the middle regarding this topic, with half of us predicting Talbot to be the clear-cut starter, while the other half opted for a 1A/1B split between the goalies.
On paper, it does look like a 1A/1B situation, with Talbot having made 25 starts so far compared to Kahkonen’s 15. However, that isn’t the case at all. Most of the latter’s starts came after the former was injured during this season’s Winter Classic on Jan. 1. Before that, Talbot had started in 77% of Minnesota’s games, compared to Kahkonen at 23%.
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Talbot returned from injury to the Wild’s crease on Jan. 24, stopping 14 of 15 shots in Minnesota’s 8-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. While he has a decent 16-8-1 record on the season, his .910 SV% and 2.96 GAA are both compared to last year. Meanwhile, Kahkonen boasts a 9-2-0 record with a .921 SV% and 2.50 GAA. Even though it’s still Talbot’s crease to lose, his Finnish counterpart’s recent play does put his current lion’s share of the crease in jeopardy going forward.
Wild Living Up to Expectations
Predictions don’t always come true, but it’s nice to see that the Wild are living up to their preseason hype. A 25-10-3 record through 38 games has Minnesota sitting fourth in the Central Division, with at least three fewer games played than the three teams ahead of them. They’re top-10 when it comes to goals for and goals against, proving that they are finally the well-rounded team that fans have been clamoring for. Not only that but the Wild have a 97.2% chance to qualify for the playoffs and a 14% shot at making the Stanley Cup Finals, according to MoneyPuck. If they can continue this play and keep proving our predictions right, this has the potential to be the best season in franchise history.
As a lifelong hockey fan and recent Master of Journalism graduate, it’s always been my dream to write about the sport. That’s why you can find me here on THW covering the Minnesota Wild! You may also see my work on FanDuel, the Ottawa Citizen, and various sports betting sites. Follow me on Twitter @devplat!