The Minnesota Wild have a lot of talented players on their roster and they’re all skilled in different ways, which is why the team works so well. Each player sees the ice in contrasting ways despite them all playing the same game. Certain players are better at passing while others are better at shooting, and the same can be said for their level of hockey IQ.
Hockey IQ is the way each player sees the ice and how they anticipate what comes next. Things like making passes ahead of their linemates instead of behind them, if they can deke the defenseman, beat the goalie, etc. The Wild have plenty of players with high hockey IQs but only three can be called the best on the team and they’ll need to use that IQ as the new season quickly approaches.
Wild’s Top Offensive IQ: Kirill Kaprizov
The first name that comes to mind when hockey IQ is mentioned is superstar Kirill Kaprizov. It’s quite clear he sees the ice differently than most players in the NHL; scoring 108 points in his second season proves that point. The Wild knew they were snagging a talent when he joined their roster during the 2020-21 season but they didn’t realize how special he truly was.
Kaprizov has the ability to see the play unfold before it happens and be in the right place the majority of the time. Obviously, he makes mistakes but so does every other player, and he can usually make up for those mistakes by using his hockey IQ to see where he needs to be on defense. When he played on the defensive side of things, he improved his ability to block shots with 29 blocked last season, up from 18 during his rookie campaign.
The final detail that shows how high Kaprizov’s hockey IQ is his ability to learn from the situation and fix it going forward. He’s constantly working to improve his game and it will continue to grow as he hones his skills more and more. It’s exciting for Wild fans to see a player that has a consistent drive to improve, despite already being highly talented.
Wild’s Top Offensive & Defensive IQ: Joel Eriksson Ek
The next player on this list has to be the most defensive-minded forward on the entire Wild roster, center Joel Eriksson Ek. He’s another player that can see things unfold and be prepared for them, except he’s more defensive-focused. He’s been talked about for years about being in the running for the Selke Trophy and while he hasn’t won it, he’s always in the conversation.
Eriksson Ek focuses on the defensive side of his game and he was just beaten out by Ryan Hartman for most blocked shots by a forward last season; Hartman had 48, while Eriksson Ek had 44. While he knew when to block shots, he also knew when to use his physicality to change the momentum of the game. He was edged slightly in the number of hits, but it’s hard to keep up when your linemates are Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway. Brandon Duhaime also slid in front of him, but Eriksson Ek still managed to snag fourth place on the team with 138 hits last season.
While Eriksson Ek isn’t as offensive-minded as some of his teammates, he’s still highly talented in that area as well with 49 points tallied last season. His IQ helps him anticipate when one of his linemates is going to make a big hit that’ll force the puck out to him for a scoring opportunity, which can happen quite often with the hard-hitting GREEF line. He’s also like Kaprizov and focuses on always improving, so it’ll be fascinating to see how well he does this season.
Wild’s Top Defensive IQ: Jonas Brodin
The final spot on this list goes to a player that’s consistently forgotten about but is very crucial to the Wild’s defensive core, Jonas Brodin. His level of hockey IQ is basically equal to Kaprizov except he doesn’t dazzle in scoring goals, he works hard to stop them. His ability to predict what will happen is how he was able to snag the team lead in blocked shots last season with 126 and steal the puck 24 times.
The most important part about Brodin isn’t just his defensive talents but also his scoring skills. Last season he was second amongst Wild defensemen in scoring with 30 points, finishing with five goals and 25 assists. While the goals were great, the assists were just as impressive, as he used his abilities to find open teammates and set them up to score.
Brodin is often considered one of the most overlooked players in the NHL and it’s surprising with how great of a hockey IQ he has. The Wild will really need his blocked shots and takeaways this season with their current goaltending situation. They have their veteran in Marc-André Fleury, but their backup Filip Gustavsson is still unproven with just 27 games played in the NHL and being brand new to the Wild. So, the help Brodin will provide by predicting what the opposing team will do is going to be huge all season long.
Wild’s Overall IQ
The Wild’s Kaprizov, Eriksson Ek, and Brodin may have the top hockey IQs on the team, but luckily for them, the majority of the roster is also on the high end of that spectrum. It really showed last season with the 11 players who scored 30 points or more and their ability to find the back of the net so many times. They also don’t have to worry about the defensive end of things since their core is so strong led by Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, and Brodin.
As stated before, the area they’re most likely to struggle in will be goaltending. They have an eventual Hall of Fame goaltender in Fleury, and while he’s talented he is getting older and is not the goalie he once was. While Gustavsson is still a rookie and will be under a lot of pressure to take the backup spot, plus fill in for Fleury when needed. Hopefully, the Wild’s defense can continue to improve from last season to help them out, but it would also be great if Gustavsson could use his hockey IQ to make this his breakout season, and step up in a big way to snag some wins too.
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.