The Minnesota Wild have had a long offseason but their regular season is now just a day away. They’ll start the season with their home opener against the New York Rangers and everyone will finally get to see what kind of scoring power this team has. With names like Kirill Kaprizov, Marco Rossi, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Hartman, and Joel Eriksson Ek, this team should have no problem scoring goals.
They had a busy offseason that included adding another scorer in Sam Steel but not before they traded away Kevin Fiala and Cam Talbot. Thankfully the Wild were able to re-sign Marc-André Fleury to a two-year contract and keep some of their goaltending intact. In exchange for Talbot, they did receive another goaltender, Filip Gustavsson, but he’s very young and hasn’t had much experience in the NHL just yet.
Just in time for the Wild’s season to start, our crew at The Hockey Writers discussed some key items that will be talked about during this upcoming season. Tyson McKay, C.G. Jones, and Mariah Stark put together the answers to some of the toughest and most interesting questions that the team will be facing.
Wild’s Lineup Changes
Tyson: There have been some fairly good Wild opening night rosters in their 21 seasons of existence, but I have never been as excited at the potential as I am for this season. The combination of skilled veterans, superstar talent, and rookie intrigue gives off an air of balance that has the potential to explode and push the Wild into the upper levels of the NHL.
This lineup will no doubt evolve throughout the season, as it always does, but the main takeaway is that even the fourth line and bottom pairing guys have the ability to turn a game in their favor and wear down opponents with speed and skill. If the Wild get all their lines rolling smoothly, look out.
C.G.: Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the Wild this season is that they have a deep bench. They don’t have to rely on just one or two lines to produce offensively, as their third and fourth lines can be lethal too. During the club’s preseason finale against the Dallas Stars, the fourth line—comprised of Connor Dewar, Rossi, and Brandon Duhaime—had a strong offensive showing, and even scored a goal on their way to a 5-1 victory.
Though I don’t expect Rossi to remain on the fourth line, it’s great to see that he’s making a solid impact there. The bottom line is that no team will make it deep into the postseason without four solid lines, and the Wild are well-equipped for the task at hand.
Mariah: The Wild are going to be the team to watch this upcoming season, especially with the offensive firepower they have throughout their entire lineup. Their top line of Kaprizov, Hartman, and Zuccarello will be a force to reckon with once again but the Wild are more than just their top line. Even their defense gets in on the action with Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin recording 30 or more points last season.
The main issue for the Wild that has drawn attention all offseason is their goaltending. Of course, they have a future Hall of Famer in Fleury but they also have a big unknown in Gustavsson. Hopefully, he can learn as much as possible from Fleury to become a steady backup and be ready to step in as a starter when needed if something happens to him. It’ll definitely be interesting to watch the goaltending as the season unfolds.
Expectations of Wild Coach Evason
Tyson: One of the traits I like the most about head coach Dean Evason is his humility and ability to delegate roles to other coaches, and then actually allow them to make those decisions. He has a fantastic ability to understand when someone else has a better handle on certain situations of the game and then will use that person’s knowledge to help the entire team. I fully expect another season where the Wild never feel like they are out of a game because Evason is smart enough to deploy the right players in the right situations based on the cumulative knowledge of all the coaches on the team.
C.G.: I have high hopes for Evason this season. However, much of the Wild’s success will be determined by how often the bottom-six will be given opportunities to show that they can be trusted in high-pressure situations. The Wild simply cannot be a team that runs two lines when the going gets tough. They have to be able to run their full lineup consistently. No team is going to win the Cup without the coaching staff first trusting their bottom six.
Mariah: I’ve been a fan of Evason’s coaching style since he started with the team during the 2019-20 season. He came in during the height of COVID and pushed through despite all the adversity. He’s a tough but fair coach that expects players to earn their playing time. He has faith in all of his players and when he makes a decision he sticks with it regardless of what others think.
Evason’s aggressive style to pull the goaltender early and stick with certain things gives me high expectations for him this season. I believe he knows what he’s doing and will make the right choices when it comes down to it. I think he’ll have another great season behind the bench and will get the team further in the playoffs than ever before.
Wild’s Most Anticipated Opponent
Tyson: I am pumped to watch the Wild play the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks just to appease my personal vendetta against the team that eliminated the Wild in back-to-back years in the playoffs, denying them the chance to make it past the second round. Is it even the same team that eliminated them in 2013-14 and 2014-15? Not even close. Yet the pain lingers and it will please me to no end to watch the Wild outplay their conference rivals in every aspect of the game this season.
C.G.: The team I’m most looking forward to the Wild playing is, naturally, the Colorado Avalanche. Not only are they inter-division rivals, but they will also be a good barometer for how the Wild stack up against top-tier playoff contenders. They will not really learn anything about themselves if they’re constantly winning against clubs in the middle of a rebuild. They need to be put to the test, and there’s no better test than the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Mariah: Normally I’d say the Avalanche because they’re the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but my answer will have to be the Edmonton Oilers. As great of a player as the guy who wears No. 97 for the Oilers is, it was really entertaining to see the Wild’s No. 97 dominate against arguably the best player currently in the NHL. I’m really excited to see that matchup again and hopefully watch Kaprizov continue to rule the ice and potentially catch Connor McDavid’s scoring numbers by the end of the season.
Wild’s Most Surprising Player
Tyson: The center position is a topic of contention amongst all Wild fans, but most agree there just is not a true number-one center on the team. I think this is the year Joel Eriksson Ek proves he is actually the number one, even if he doesn’t physically play the role.
Eriksson Ek has been on a steady incline on his way to becoming a key part of the most dominant defensive line in the NHL, but I think this is the year his offensive game makes that leap as well. He had 49 points (26 goals and 23 assists) during the 2021-22 season, but I think he breaks 60 this year, while also eclipsing the 30-goal mark on his way to being a Selke Trophy finalist.
C.G.: I don’t know which player is going to surprise. If I had to venture a guess, I would bet that Rossi’s going to have a breakout season this year. Judging by his superior play during the preseason, it seems that the Austrian-born centerman has a lot to offer a club that’s already firing on all cylinders. Though he will likely start in the bottom six, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move up the lineup as his production increases and becomes a bit more consistent.
Mariah: The Wild have so many great players and their performances aren’t typically surprising except for the new way Kaprizov can figure out how to score a goal. However, there’s always that one player every season that finds a way to surprise everyone, last season that was Matt Boldy and for this season I’m going with Calen Addison.
He’s already been a welcome surprise on the Wild’s defense but I think he’s really going to get comfortable and make it hard to send him back to the Iowa Wild in the American Hockey League. He’s a strong offensive-minded defenseman that has the ability to score quite a few goals. As such, he’s going to be really entertaining to watch as he finds his way in the NHL.
Wild’s Season Ahead
The Wild have a lot to look forward to this season and it’ll be very fun for fans to watch. If you like watching unbelievable goals being scored, they are the team for you. Of course, they’ll have their struggles to get through but this team has the ability to do just that. Here’s to a season full of goal-scoring and winning for the Wild plus another playoff berth that hopefully gets past the first round!