THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Third in Central Division.
2013: 26-19-3. Eighth in West.
KEY DEPARTURES: Benn Ferriero, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Justin Falk.
KEY ADDITIONS: Jonathon Blum, Matt Cooke, Keith Ballard, Nino Niederreiter.
THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Zach Parise (73), Mikko Koivu (64), Jason Pominville (56).
PROS: One year into Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s megadeals, the Wild don’t regret their free agent bonanza. Parise was more or less the first-line winger he was supposed to be in 2012-13 and Suter, after a slow start, was as good as any defenseman in the game for most of the season and finished second in Norris Trophy voting. Captain Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville, acquired last season from Buffalo, round out an above-average star core.
The Wild have boasted an elite prospect crop for several seasons and are starting to reap the rewards. Jonas Brodin is already good enough to serve as Suter’s defense partner and the sky’s the limit for the two-way blueliner. Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter all come with first-round draft pedigree and have the opportunity for major roles.
CONS: Minnesota’s depth at every position is a concern. It lost four of its top nine forwards – Devin Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard – over the off-season and there’s no guarantee the aforementioned young guns are ready to succeed as full-time NHLers yet. After Suter and Brodin, Minnesota’s blueline lacks high-ceiling talent, assuming Mathew Dumba isn’t ready for prime time yet.
Will the Wild have a healthy goaltender this season? It’s easy to forget Niklas Backstrom didn’t debut in the NHL until his late 20s. He’s already 35 and coming off sports hernia surgery. Factor in Josh Harding’s admirable battle with multiple sclerosis and losing Matt Hackett in the Pominville trade and unproven Darcy Kuemper could be pressed into starting duty before long.
Minnesota was 23rd in offense last season. Its No. 2 goal scorer, Setoguchi, is gone, and its No. 3, Dany Heatley, is coming off shoulder surgery. Unless a young forward makes a huge leap, scoring may be even tougher for Minnesota this season.
X-FACTOR: The faster the young player fresh out of the rich pipeline contribute, the better. With so many of last year’s forwards gone, the Wild will look for Charlie Coyle to build on a promising first year, while Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund should both see more games. A stalled year for the new young players could translate in a stalled season for this franchise on the rise.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: Ryan Suter proves over 82 games why he should have been the Norris Trophy winner over the 48-game 2013 season.
CENTRAL NO. 3: MINNESOTA WILD