It’s official; you can now safely watch Minnesota Wild games with your wits in tact.
With the new tandem of GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Todd Richards promising a whole new less-boring version of the sport in the State of Hockey, this was expected a little bit earlier in the season, but it’s understandable the players needed some time to actually buy into the new system.
Perhaps that’s why it shouldn’t be surprising some of the key Wild players in the team’s recent five-game win streak are relatively new to the organization.
We all know the Minnesota teams of the past were defense-focused, but players such as Kyle Brodziak and Guillaume Latendresse grew their games in the Edmonton and Montreal systems, respectively, so they don’t have that baggage. Hence, Brodziak and Latendresse were quite effective against Anaheim Friday, banging and crashing away, forechecking deep in the Ducks zone (sometimes both at the same time – it’s a miracle!).
Andrew Ebbett has been another sparkplug since coming over to the Wild. Picked up on waivers from Chicago just a couple weeks ago, the speedy center has made an immediate impact in the Twin Cities, scoring three goals in six games while only playing third-line minutes.
Again, Ebbett cut his teeth elsewhere, spending most of his career in the Anaheim system before catching on with the Blackhawks this season. The undersized pivot proved last year he could bring the offense, gelling with Ducks star Teemu Selanne on a potent second line late in the season. The fact neither Anaheim nor Chicago had space for him this year has been a boon for Minnesota so far and his type of game is the one they want to be playing.
Early on in the 2009-10 campaign, the Wild clearly struggled with its identity, leading to the team’s horrible 3-9-0 start. References to the culture change were everywhere in the Minnesota newspapers and I got the sense veterans were still “recovering” from the yolk they had been under while playing Lemaire hockey (and this isn’t an indictment of Lemaire – New Jersey has shown how to execute his master plan and the Devils’ 19-7-1 record despite a raft of key injuries is proof).
Now, the heavy veil has been lifted. One of the first to buy in was center Eric Belanger, who had seven points in his first five games this year and is still on pace for career offensive totals. Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette soon followed.
Ironically enough, the off-season seemed to indicate the offense would run through Czech mates Martin Havlat and Petr Sykora, but injuries have devastated that concept.
Nevertheless, it’s all for the best. The old Minnesota Wild relied too heavily on Slovak buddies Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra and look where that got the team.
Now, Havlat does need to get on track, no doubt about that – his 11 points and minus-17 rating through 22 games simply won’t do – but with three points in his past three games he seems to be adjusting to his new team.
With solid goaltending and the troops done second-guessing what they should be doing on the ice strategy-wise, the Wild is back on course. A playoff berth remains to be seen, but at least the team is now confident in how they want to achieve that goal.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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