Our “Wild Watch” series continues as we take a look at Thomas Vanek.
In case you missed it, check out some previous editions of Wild Watch, courtesy of the Minnesota Wild contributors here at THW.
Every year, Wild fans single out a player(s) to stick the blame when things aren’t going right. Ms. Baker here at THW discussed this very thing when predicting captain Mikko Koivu’s upcoming season. When not calling for Koivu’s “C”, anger shifted towards Thomas Vanek, and rightfully so.
What is with the trend after all, of players 30 or older coming to Minnesota only to have their career stall? It’s been seen far too often, watching Fletcher experiment with a Matt Moulson or a Dany Heatley just to name a few. Are guys like Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek next?
The Wild need production from their vets, and while each player (Pommer and Vanek) placed second and third on the team respectively, in terms of total points, both suffered from career-low worthy years last season. Most eyes are on Vanek as he begins his second year with the Wild. Signed last summer to a discounted 3-year 19.5 million dollar contract, Thomas Vanek needs to bounce back this year after seeing him net the puck just 21 times (#21in15) in 2014, especially if he is to remain in Minnesota for the third year of that contract.
To put these numbers into perspective when discussing the decay of Vanek, this is a guy who potted 20 goals in 38 games during the lockout shortened season of 2012-13. And while goals may not be everything, his “lack of effort” on the ice, poor passing, and weak back-checking had fans crowning him as “Heatley 2.0” or “hot-wheels” after just the first month of play. Primed with ample opportunities to score in seemingly every game, Vanek opted to pass the puck far too often (only 171 SOG), leaving folks everywhere scratching their heads. Something was left to be desired in his play last year no doubt, but what?
Assessing the Issue
Some believe that waiting for Vanek to reach unrestricted free-agent status was a mistake. Maybe trading for him two years ago would have been better? In my opinion, Fletcher made the right choice in waiting, even if TV does not pan out as expected. With the thin crop of young talent in the Minnesota system to begin with, dealing out the youth for a high risk player (of sorts) like Vanek was not the route needing to be taken at the time.
Michael Russo of the Star Tribune reported that Vanek is skating well at the Wild captain’s practices, appearing about 7-8 pounds lighter. Maybe better conditioning is the key to success for Vanek. Maybe the fact that the guy was skating with two hernias in his left groin (which were surgically repaired this summer) for most of last season took its toll. Now healthy and lighter, time will tell which Vanek we will get this winter.
I like Thomas Vanek, I really do, so it brings me great dismay to say that there really is not much to be excited about regarding the Austrian winger this year. Other than a foreseeable milestone 300th goal that will cap a nice career, the Wild have the youngsters who will take ice time from Vanek, delegating him permanently to the third line to start the year, and probably permanently. This was also mentioned by Russo in the above mentioned link. Russo states that Nino and Zucker appear to be on the wings with Mikko Koivu to start training camp on the second line.
Vanek can still snipe the puck with the best of them, as we saw for the majority of his clutch goals in year one with the club, but will he ever get as many chances again as he did last season while playing in the bottom-six?
I don’t see him surpassing his totals from a year ago as far as scoring, especially if he is indeed a permanent fixture on the third line. Another 50 point season is realistic, but numbers like that again could really hurt the Wild’s chances if the Granlunds, Coyles, or the Niederreiters don’t take the next step in their game.
Jon Nomland is a Journalism student out of Colorado, and currently a Minnesota Wild contributor for The Hockey Writers. When not engaged in Wild hockey, he enjoys following the Philadelphia Flyers due to his Pennsylvania roots.