The 2022 NHL Draft has come and gone, and the Minnesota Wild made some important choices regarding their roster for the 2022-23 season. Those choices have led general manager Bill Guerin to make some other decisions that not everyone is going to agree with that involve not re-signing certain players.
According to a Tweet by the Wild’s beat writer for The Athletic, Michael Russo, Guerin is reportedly going to allow both forwards, Nicolas Deslauriers and Nick Bjugstad to go to free agency this week. Obviously, with all the additions he made at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, it was unavoidable that at least one or multiple players would have to leave in order to keep others, it’s just a part of the business that is the NHL.
Deslauriers 2021-22 Season Recap
When Guerin went out and picked up Deslauriers, everyone, including Deslauriers, knew why. He was going to be the new muscle to take some of the pressure off other players, mainly the “GREEF” line that consisted of Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Marcus Foligno. Prior to him joining the Wild, the majority of the hits fell on Foligno with Greenway and also defenseman Matt Dumba not far behind.
Adding Deslauriers to the mix was exactly what the Wild needed at the time, as he started throwing hits as soon as he touched the ice and added another fun personality to an already tight-knit locker room. So, the decision that Guerin has made to let him go instead of re-signing him is one to disagree with. While the deal may have been intended to be short-term, he was a good fit and should have stayed.
Deslauriers played 20 games for the Wild during the regular season and in that time frame, he racked up 53 hits. Had he played in all 82 games, it’d be easy to assume he could have surpassed 200 hits and maybe even caught Foligno’s leading 238 hits. In the little time he played, he helped change the momentum of games for the Wild with his physical play, as he tallied three goals and defensively had three takeaways and 15 blocked shots.
While Deslauriers did well in the regular season his postseason stats did suffer some, as he played in five of the Wild’s six playoff games and tallied zero points. He also had two shots on goal and his minutes per game dropped from 10:32 to 8:12. However, fourth-line minutes are typically cut back when it comes to the postseason. What didn’t drop however were his hits; he stayed consistent and threw 13 in the five games he played.
Bjugstad Season Recap
Nick Bjugstad came to the Wild in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins back in September of 2020. It seemed like a slight risk due to the fact he was coming off of core muscle surgery that cost him most of the previous season. He only played in three games following the surgery because the rest of the season was canceled due to COVID, so it was hard to tell how well he’d recovered from the surgery.
However, the Wild took the risk and it has been a mixed bag of results since. His first season with the Wild was also cut short due to COVID, where the Wild played 56 games total and he played in 44 of them. Bjugstad scored six goals and tallied 11 assists for 17 points, not bad for a mostly fourth-line center but the team could’ve used more consistency from him. Being on the fourth line typically means fewer points but more hits. His hits weren’t super impressive, but still made an impact, as he contributed 48 hits in 44 games, not quite the level of Foligno, but still helpful.
This past season was actually worse for Bjugstad in terms of points, as he scored seven goals and six assists for 13 points in 57 games played. However, he made up for it in hits, as he had 99 in those 57 games and was 15 shy of tying for the top five on the team. It wasn’t enough to get him postseason action, though, as out of the six games the Wild played, he didn’t see any ice time, even when Deslauriers was injured. Bjugstad was nixed from the roster when the playoffs began and that last regular-season game now appears to have been his last in a Wild sweater.
Wild Should Keep Deslauriers
While it may be hard to let Bjugstad go in terms of hometown pride, being he’s from Blaine, Minnesota, he’s too inconsistent with his play to remain on the roster. He had small streaks where he’d be lights out and either snag a few points or block some big shots, but then he’d go back to being hardly noticeable with very few contributions. He received one of the lowest report cards on the team and it’s not surprising to see his name on the free-agent list.
Especially with players like Tyson Jost, Connor Dewar, and Brandon Duhaime, there’s not a lot of room for Bjugstad anymore. It’ll be hard to see him go because he’s a likable personality, but it’s what’s best for the Wild at this stage. While letting Bjugstad go makes sense, letting Deslauriers slip through their fingers is hard to grasp.
In terms of making room for the younger guys like Jost, Dewar, and Duhaime it makes perfect sense to let Deslauriers go because there isn’t enough room for him to stay on that line if those three remain together. While looking at their cap space, it’s the only logical thing to do at this moment. However, if they decide to test the free agency waters to find a replacement for Fiala, they’d have to trade someone to make room and that would possibly make room for Deslauriers.
The Wild should’ve really tried to find a way to keep Deslauriers because he brings a lot of personality and a lot of physicality to the lineup. It’s great the third line can do that as well, but they’ve also proven they can score goals and that’s something they need more of going forward. Keeping him would take the pressure off the GREEF line to do that and it would also show that the Wild are not pushovers when it comes to the hitting department.
The bottom line is, that the Wild shouldn’t give up Deslauriers. Unfortunately, they probably have to, unless they trade or buy out a big enough contract to make room for him. However, there’s one last option of bumping Dewar up to the second line and that would make room, but it’s highly unlikely with how new he is to the NHL. As stated earlier, it’s pretty concrete that Deslauriers will be playing for another team come next season.
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.