Every team has players that struggle to crack the lineup season after season. Then if they do make it, staying there is the next battle. The Minnesota Wild are no different, and this season there were two players who weren’t sure what their futures would be after training camp.
Those two players were defenseman Carson Soucy and forward Nico Sturm. Both have bounced in and out of the Wild roster over the last few seasons and seem to have finally found their way.
Carson Soucy Making His Way
Soucy isn’t as new to the Wild line-up as Sturm, but his name may be unfamiliar to some Minnesota fans. He made his debut back during the 2017-18 season in which he played in just three games. His next season, he spent it all with the Iowa Wild in the American Hockey League.
He finally made an impact in the 2019-20 season, where he played 55 games. He had seven goals and seven assists for 14 points, as well as being a plus-16. He even managed to have a game-winning goal that came against the Florida Panthers in December of 2019.
That performance, as well as his showing in training camp this season, helped him land one of the final defensive slots for Minnesota. There were plenty of decent players vying to take the spot including, Louie Belpedio, Calen Addison, and Brad Hunt, who could have knocked him out of contention. Many thought the final spot would be Hunt’s, but Soucy managed to edge him out and make the cut.
Soucy’s size and physical play may have helped him nail down his roster spot. Last season, the 6-foot-5, 211-pound Soucy had 69 hits and was second among Minnesota’s defensemen behind Matt Dumba and just ahead of Jared Spurgeon. He averaged almost five hits per game and blocked 50 shots.
When the Wild took the ice in Los Angeles for their first game of the 2020-21 season, it was somewhat surprising to see Soucy had filled that last spot. It was a surprise because Hunt was left off the list but also not a complete shock because Soucy did a decent job last season and played in over 75% of their games.
So far, he’s played in all four of the Wild’s games this season and has been pushing hard to be noticed. Soucy has averaged nearly 13 minutes a game and even had a lot of time on the penalty kill. He’s currently their number one defenseman in time killing off penalties. He’s also spent a small amount of time helping on the power play, so he’s a player that can do it all.
With a little more time on ice and some confidence, he could become one of the Wild’s go-to defensemen over the next few years. During Minnesota’s most recent game against the Anaheim Ducks, Soucy spent some time on the ice with fellow youngster Sturm.
Nico Sturm: The Newbie
The Wild changed forwards in and out through the offseason, and that left an open spot. The top 11 spots were pretty locked up, leaving just one open during training camp. Sturm fought hard and was able to seal that last roster spot prior to the start of the season.
Most believed that last spot was going to go to Marco Rossi. However, those hopes were quickly dashed when it was announced that Rossi had suffered an upper-body injury and he would be out indefinitely.
With Rossi out, that meant Sturm was in. He had only played eight games over the last two seasons, but his showing at training camp impressed the coaching staff.
After the Wild’s first four games, he’s managed to fit in well on the fourth line with Nick Bjugstad and Ryan Hartman. Sturm even managed to have six shots on goal in their first meeting against the Ducks. He is tied for fourth place among Minnesota’s forwards for most shots on goal so far this season, as he has nine and is tied with fellow linemate Hartman.
Another big player like Soucy, Sturm is a 6-foot-3, 207-pound player that can throw his weight around. In his six games with the Wild last season, he managed to have two points, assisting on two goals. Those two points and his potential to score more landed him on the fourth line.
He’ll have to continue to fight for his spot, but now that he has it, he can relax a little and focus on his game. It would be difficult for any player having to deal with the current circumstances of the season, but even harder for young players like Sturm.
With the added stress of a shortened season and these games meaning a lot, Sturm will have to work hard to maintain his focus. If he continues to force the issue and push to the net as he has so far, he’ll start to get points and seal his fate in the lineup.
The Next Step for These Two
Soucy and Sturm know they aren’t permanently in the Wild lineup. They both have to continue to push hard, prove they deserve to be there, and continue to earn their respective spots.
With how they’ve looked in the first four games, it seems Soucy and Sturm will be staying in the lineup for the time being. With Soucy’s experience, it’ll be easier for him to stick on the roster and keep his focus.
Sturm, on the other hand, may have a little harder of a time. If Rossi or the injured Mats Zuccarello were able to come back, he could be out of a spot.
These next few weeks will be the true test if they can handle the stress of a different, shortened season as well as being relatively new to the NHL way of life.
Mariah 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.