Ladies and Gentlemen of the Wilderness, we have come to the end of the positional grades. Again, to recap please check out our grades on the right wings, left wings, defensemen and goalies.
Without further adieu, I give you ... The Centers
The final position we will evaluate is one the Wild have been criticized over for years. In order to play with the elite teams, you have to have elite centers. Scoring wingers are nice, but they are nothing without a center. Ovechkin would be less than he is without Backstrom. Thornton and Heatley would be less than they are without Marleau. What would Henrik Zetterberg be without Pavel Datsyuk?
What would Martin Havlat be without... wait... I'll get this... yeah. You get the point, right?
No. I'm not kidding. He battles, he fights, he plays at both ends of the ice, he gives you 100% effort and is clearly the leader of the team. As such, he is responsible for the lack of effort this team showed in FAR too many games. In addition, he simply doesn't score enough. Yes, he had a career high in points and assists, but he needs to finish, especially in a world in which he is the face of the franchise and is the guy who is supposed to make the team go. There will be nights when he needs to put the team on his shoulders, score twice, get two assists, play solid defense and beat someone into a pulp. He's young. He'll learn. He still has a LONG way to go before he is in the level of elite centermen.
Buddha: A In his first year as full time captain, Koivu showed that he was the right choice. He led this team by example, coming to play every night, battling hard for 60 minutes, and never doubting his team. He handled media expectations well, and by all reports, led well in the locker room as well. The season cannot be blamed on him, nor his ability to lead. The season falls at the feet of the old regime, and the dearth of talent.
As for on ice play, Koivu continued to win face offs, he was machine in the corners, and set a career high in a handful of offensive categories. All this despite playing with a 36 year old on his left and a third liner on his right. Koivu is the heart and soul of this team, and the new GM will need to lock him in long term or face the wrath of thousands of angry people.
JS: A First ever permanent captain for the Wild sure played like it. One of the best two-way centers in the game, his point total is cursed by the lack of true first line players to play with.
Streaky. Good in the circle, decent in defensive play, cannot finish, also doesn't seem to be the kind of guy who makes others better, that is a problem. He also has major attitude, and would be lucky to be a second-liner, but really should be on the third. Either way, he's not overly impressive and it's nice to get something for him at the deadline.
Buddha: B It is hard to fault Belanger for much of anything. He played his role well, despite the fact that he may have an inflated view of what that role should be. He is a strong third line center, and would likely be a strong fill in on a second line. He finished 9th in the league in FOW Win %, one spot behind Mikko Koivu. This was likely the main reason why he was traded to the Caps. They needed a face off master for late game situations. He contributed well for both the Wild and the Caps, but needs to lose the attitude that he is an elite center.
JS: B Lead the team early in the season, was always a good face-off man, also pretty good defensively, also had a pretty good year with the Wild, scoring 35points in 60 games.
Should be a 4th line guy. Didn't get enough points being on a line with Havlat and Latendresse. Great energy, great effort, does what he's asked, but isn't good enough to be on a line with two guys who should be 80 point players. Not his fault, just not his position.
Buddha: C Brodziak played well with Havlat and Latendresse, and also played well on a line with Clutterbuck and Nolan, among other mixed up lines he was put on. The biggest issue with Brodziak is not his ability to play, but rather the role he was asked to play. He was tasked too often with being the second line center, and that clearly is not his strength. He is an excellent defensive forward, and has a touch of offensive ability. However, like Belanger, he is not built to be an elite offensive center. Once he moved back down into his comfort zone, he played much better, and helped the team out more. He played his role, but was unremarkable.
JS: B- Showed good early chemistry with Lats and Havlat, but was clearly not a second line center. Showed good hands and played with energy most of the game. Pretty good find!
Came in with a chip on his shoulder for being cut time and again. Love his game. Love his effort. Love the way he battles. Problem? He's not good enough to make you remember him. He's infinitely replaceable. As such, I didn't notice when he was or wasn't in the lineup.
Buddha: C+ I get a bit of the Dan Fritsche vibe from Ebbett. He is obviously valued by NHL squads, as he has been put on waivers more times than he can count, but continues to be claimed each time. Ebbett is a solid two way player, and above average checker. 14 points in 49 games is not overly impressive, but he did fight through some injuries. All in all, he was a solid pick up for a team ravaged by injuries. He brought a work ethic and an attitude that the team lacked. He was not amazing, but certainly not disappointing.
JS: B- If he hadn't suffered a concussion, he was golden. He had a great start to his Wild career, showing good early chemistry with Lats, but was derailed by a concussion. A real warrior, playing a game on the first line while vomiting several times. Clean 50% on face-offs.
Fuck James Sheppard
Buddha: F- To be truthful, an F- doesn't seem fair. I only wish there were a lower grade to give. Alas, in the system we are using, it is what it is. Sheppard is the posterboy for the embarrassment of the previous regime. He was thrust into a position he was not ready for, and forced to continue to play through it. He is not an NHL level player, not even on a fourth line for the worst team in the league. He will be qualified, to be sure. However, he has proven he just simply does not have it in him. Shep needs to be given his walking papers or Fletcher needs to work his magic and trade him to some new scenery. By the way, I could write an entire post about Sheppard, which may happen later. For now, I need to stay brief.
JS: D+ What a horrible year he had. Even people who didn't see him play can plainly see he had a horrible year compared to his other years. He did draw a lot of penalties, which is good, but for a guy we expected around 35-40 points from at the very least, he bombed. Should've lost his spot a loooong time ago.
Defensive problems, offensive promise, love the way he looked at times, love the fact that Fletcher's regime is reaching out to the college ranks. Too small a sample to really rate him, but I am looking forward to seeing what he can do with a full summer and camp under his belt.
Buddha: B+ Wellman is an excellent signing. He fit in immediately with the team, and played well against NHL level talent. He had four points in 12 games, or exactly two less points than Sheppard had in 64 games. He certainly showed he has the ability, the raw talent to skate with the best. The only thing holding this kid back is linemates. Should he be stuck on a line with Sheppard again next season, it would be a total shame.
JS: B+ What a pleasant surprise! CF did well to nab this guy away from the 20-something other interested teams. This kid can fly, and had 4 points (almost as much as Shep, in more than 5 times less games than Shep) If the Wild play their cards right, he's a future star. Needs to bulk up and get better without the puck.
He's still not ready and should go back to the AHL next season to be one of the first call-ups. Like his size, like his effort, do not like his recklessness. Likely it is because of his age and inexperience, but it'll be nice to see him work to get back up.
Buddha: C Almond likely deserves an "incomplete" for this season, however, he made his mark. Playing in seven games, he skated well, and looked like he fit in. No small feat in the NHL. He certainly has some developing to do, but Almond provides a glimmer of hope in the prospect ranks.
JS: B- Did a great job in his late season call-up, netting his first NHL goal to spark what was almost an unbelievable comeback against the Nucks. Also showed some pretty good energy.
Other centers to skate with the team include Nathan Smith, Danny Irmen, and Andy Hilbert. The plan for the season was to move Oierre MArc Bouchard back to his natural position, but of course that was derailed due to concussion. None of these players played enough games to earn a true grade. The call ups were made to see if they had the spark, or simply to fill in for a game. There simply is not enough data to provide a fair grade.
The talent isn't there. James Sheppard is a waste of TOI and a roster spot. Mikko Koivu needs to shoulder more of the actual scoring load. Ebbett is a non-factor. Brodziak is a 4th liner. This team still needs more talent and more centers who are willing to stand in front of the net or play in traffic. This is a very disappointing group overall, but hopefully things can change with Wellman and others over the summer.
Buddha: D Here I go again. I gave out mostly passing grades, and then slam the group with a lower grade. Center has always been a weak spot for the Wild. Save for Koivu and the hope found in Wellman, the Wild are still very slim. The center corp is still a rag tag group of third line guys trying to play up a notch. The problem is that the position is simply too important to leave to guys playing above their ability. The team needs a strong second line pivot, or they will continue to fail.
JS: B- Center is perceived to be our weakest position depth-wise, but with the signing of Wellman and if PMB ever returns, we should be almost all set at center. Our faceoffs were second in the league, not too shabby!