Sunday, September 24, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Minnesota Wild

GM: Chuck Fletcher (since 2009). 7.5/10
Coach: Bruce Boudreau (since 2016). 9/10

2016-17 record: 49-25-8, 106 points, 5th overall.

Departures: Martin Hanzal (C), Jason Pominville (RW), Marco Scandella (D), Erik Haula (C), Darcy Kuemper (G), Christian Folin (D), Jordan Schroeder (C), Tyler Graovac (C), Alex Tuch (RW).

Arrivals: Tyler Ennis (LW), Marcus Foligno (LW), Kyle Quincey (D), Ryan Murphy (D), Cal O'Reilly (C).

Top forwards: Mikael Granlund (65-75 points), Charlie Coyle (55-60 points), Nino Niederreiter (55-60 points), Eric Staal (45-55 points), Mikko Koivu (45-60 points), Zach Parise (40-50 points depending on his playing 60 or 72 games), Jason Zucker (45-60 points), Joel Eriksson Ek (25-35 points), Ennis (20-35 points).

Must-improve forward: He doesn't need to improve per se, but poor Parise has really caught the injury bug, slowing him and his production down from the levels he had accustomed his fans to.

Top defensemen: Ryan Suter (30-40 points), Matt Dumba (35-45 points), Jared Spurgeon (35-40 points), Jonas Brodin (25 points).

Goalies: Devan Dubnyk (92/100), Alex Stalock (79/100).

Top rookies: Eriksson Ek (20 years old, C, 2015 first-round draft pick), Luke Kunin (19, C, 2016 first-round draft pick), Jordan Greenway (20, LW), Gustav Olofsson (22, D), Kirill Kaprizov (20, LW, point-per-game player in the ultra-defensive KHL).

GM Fletcher has gotten himself out of his self-created cap crunch, and Coach Boudreau usually finishes with division titles, a feat he almost achieved yet again last year despite a roster that, on paper, looked average. Extremely balanced and deep, but average nonetheless.

Then again, Dubyk was robbed of a Vezina nod last season by Carey Price's reputation, the same Price who plainly stole the Hart from him in 2014-15. He has become one of the best goalies in the world and will be counted upon to backstop this Wild team whenever the offense and defense falters, which shouldn't be too often.

I do not think Staal has it in him to reach beyond expectations once more, and the previous seasons' whipping boy Koivu will also regress a bit, but with the depth at forward on this team, both will still be able to contribute somewhat. However, the youth have clearly taken over, and Granlund, Coyle, Zucker and Niederreiter will be running the show from now on.

Prediction: 1st in the Central Division.

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