Alright Wild fans! The puck drops tonight! LET'S PLAY HOCKEY!
In today's entry I give you my projected player grades and pre-evaluate how each player's season will go.
Will Heatley return to his 50 goal scoring days? Will Koivu finally be recognized as an elite playmaking center? Will Backstrom bring the Vezina back?
Read on after the jump!
Alright, so first of all, let me explain the grading system:
S - Superior performance. Player will have an All-Star caliber season and will most likely be among league leaders in multiple stat categories. The player's performance will garner serious considerations for hardware. Last season’s comparisons: Corey Perry, Niklas Lidstrom, Tim Thomas
A - Outstanding performance. Player leads the team in at least one positive statistical category and is among the league leaders. Player is heavily considered for an All-Star appearance and may be a running name throughout the season for an award. Grade can also denote a breakout season for a younger player. Last season's comparisons: Thomas Vanek, Christian Ehrhoff, Cam Ward
B - Good performance. Player is in line to at least meet expectations and potentially exceed them enough to garner considerable attention from fans. Player is unlikely to be recognized for All-Star honors or an award, but has performed above the average NHLer. Last season's comparisons: Dustin Brown, Ryan Suter, Marc-Andre Fleury
C - Average performance. Player reached the bare minimum of his expectations but did not carry their performance much farther. Though their performance wasn't bad, there aren't many great things to say either. Inconsistent, streaky or players reaching their decline often land in this area. Player is in line with most NHLers due to rather pedestrian performances. Last season's comparisons: Dustin Penner, Jay Bouwmeester, Niklas Backstrom
D - Poor performance. Player did not reach expectations and either played at a noticeably slower pace than expected or did not pan out as expected. New acquisitions that poorly fit land here or young players who may be looked upon as future busts apply. Player will be a heavy candidate for trade rumors. Last season's comparisons: Alex Kovalev, Filip Kuba, Steve Mason
F - Awful performance. Player was an absolute disaster and a hope of achieving anything close to their expectations was sealed as impossible prior to the All-Star Break. Player is a strong candidate for a contract buy-out and is potentially on his way out of the NHL. Last season's comparisons: Mike Comrie, Cam Barker, Nikolai Khabibulin
+ - Player has some upside or evidence to suggest he could put on a performance one grade higher
(-) - Player has some downside or evidence to suggest he may put on a performance one grade lower
OKAY! Here we go!
1. Mikko Koivu
Summary: With Ryan Kesler's recent recognition as a superstar center, Koivu now takes the throne as the NHL's most underrated and uncelebrated player. The additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi are massive improvements over Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen and line him up for an opportunity to break the 82 point marker this season. A Selke Trophy is never out of the question with Koivu. All-Star honors should be rendered.
2. Dany Heatley
Summary: Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to re-energize an elite player. I think Minnesota is exactly a dose of what the doctor ordered for Heatley, who is perfectly capable of sniping 40 goals this season with Koivu to back him up. Heatley is no slouch when it comes to setting guys up, and another 40 assists is not out of his reach. He may be a great All-Star write-in candidate this season for Wild fans.
3. Devin Setoguchi
Summary: Setoguchi will look to rejuvenate his goal scoring capabilities and find some consistency in his game. He's by no means a prospect anymore, but he's definitely experiencing some growing pains as he progresses through the NHL. Seto will have a nice opportunity to notch 20-25 goals, 40-50 points and see some good power play time.
4. Matt Cullen
Summary: Cullen has a fairly poor season he needs to bounce out of, so fans may not expect a whole lot out of him. A repeat performance may throw him to the wolves. Cullen has plenty of space and opportunity to improve and a 40-50 point season with a considerably better +/- and special teams play would disappoint nobody in the State of Hockey. He just has to claim and maintain the second line all to himself.
5. Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Summary: Bouchard needs to step his game up and get over the concussion issues he experienced the last couple seasons. If he cannot get over that hump and puts out a forgettable performance, he may be looking to take his career elsewhere come trade deadline day. He does have a great opportunity for a turn-around performance of 60 points and plenty of power play time.
6. Guillaume Latendresse
Summary: Latty's goal scoring prowess wasn't available last season due to injury, but Latty showed up for camp in shape and ready to play some serious hockey. A 30 goal performance may be what the Wild's second line and power play unit need for a playoff worthy regular season and as the team's only true power forward, is more than up for that assignment.
7. Kyle Brodziak
Summary: Brodziak's ability to make little impacts everywhere will always bring him NHL success. I predict Brodziak's point totals see a slight increase to around 45 points as I am favoring him over Matt Cullen to center the second line. A boost in confidence in the offensive zone and some successful assignments could lead to legitimate recognition as a serviceable top six forward.
8. Cal Clutterbuck
Summary: Clutterbuck will always have success with the work ethic and passion he showed Wild fans last season and I have no reason to believe he will slow down this season. The overall offensive boost for the Wild makes me believe he could hit the 20 goal mark, but it's his league leading hits and ability to drive the opposition nuts is what get's him a B.
9. Darroll Powe
Summary: Powe won't have too many expectations coming into this season when it comes to offense, but he'll always have his work cut out for him as one of the primary checkers on the squad. With Powe's above average defensive conscience and willingness to get his nose dirty, there is no reason to believe he won't meet his expectations.
10. Nick Johnson
Summary: It's always tough to make a name for yourself on the 4th line, however I believe Johnson may become a fan favorite here in Minnesota. Johnson is easily the first person to take a top-six assignment in the event of an injury and I've seen crazier things than a young 4th liner stringing together 15 goals, which I think Johnson is capable of.
11. Colton Gillies
Summary: Gillies has most likely found his place in the NHL: the bottom six. However, not all hope is lost and Gillies may yet prove to be a serviceable power forward. It will take some serious work and perhaps a miracle for him to elevate that high in one season, but Gillies career is really just starting, so one cannot write him off just yet.
12. Brett Bulmer
Summary: As a 19 year old making the roster out of camp, I still believe Bulmer will head back to Kelowna before the puck drops for game 10. If not, however, Bulmer will be filling in on the 4th line. I doubt he'll disappoint anybody at this point due to this being his rookie season and unless he plays worse than James Sheppard did, Wild fans will continue to be excited for his future.
13. Brad Staubitz
Summary: As much as I like Staubitz as some serious character the Wild needed last season, he just isn't up to par as an enforcer. Other than throwing some rather questionable hits, his performance was below average. His fighting skills are nothing special and he just doesn't seem to intimidate the opposition. If he doesn't impress the higher ups with better outings, his job may go to Matt Kassian, who is pretty well known by anybody who has played in the AHL in the last few years.
1. Nick Schultz
Summary: The jury has pretty much closed the book on Nick Schultz's offensive ability, but the Wild may just do better on offense all together. I don't think a 30 point performance is out of Schultz's scope, but a 20-25 point outing is a lot more likely. Schultz will continue to be the steady pivot of the Wild's defensive corps and will be a role model for the younger guys, which there is plenty for Schultz to mentor.
2. Marek Zidlicky
Summary: If Zid can play all 82 games, keep up his offensive abilities and run a solid power play, 50 points is never out of his reach. The sacrifice he'll make in +/- and inability to play physical will always hamper him from any kind of higher recognition. All in all, Zid benefits from the offensive weapons the Wild have added.
3. Greg Zanon
Summary: Yes, Greg Zanon can block shots and clear the crease, there's no doubt about that. However, that's about all Zanon is worth. Zanon will also be a great veteran for the younger players to learn from. The Wild's closest thing to an Iron Man doesn't have a whole lot of expectations that will be seen on the stat sheet and will have an unimpressive, yet quite important season.
4. Clayton Stoner
Summary: The jury is still out on if Stoner has the potential to be a regular NHLer or not. Realistically, the best thing he can do is have a relatively quiet season with periodic reminders with a fight or big hit simply to show management he is a competant defender with some good physical upside.
5. Jared Spurgeon
Summary: Spurgeon has plenty to prove and plenty to lose this season. Constantly knocked for his lack of size but praised for both his above average offensive ability and good positioning, Spurgeon needs to continue to improve as a defender. Any sign of plateau could get him a trip back to Houston, but I don't see it considering how poised he is for a kid his age. 25 points isn't out of his reach.
6. Mike Lundin
Summary: Another day-in, day-out defender. Lundin won't have too many expectations so long as he stays on the positive side of the +/- and helps in what defenders couldn't seem to do last season: keep the opposition out of the crease and the slot nice and empty.
7. Justin Falk
Summary: Like Stoner, Falk just needs to worry about playing good defense and showing competency at the big league level. He'll take some serious time in continuing to adjust to the speed of the NHL, which he got a decent taste of last season. Ending up on the positive side of +/- and having a good reputation for lunch pail hockey could raise him to fan favorite status. Falk won't benefit any from a return to Houston so I think his job is relatively stable but far from safe.
8. Marco Scandella
Summary: I honestly don't see Scandella staying with the big club this season. I see him playing about 20 games with some streaks going both ways and definitely showing serious flashes of what he can do. However, I also foresee a great season in Houston of about 30 points inside of around 60 AHL games. If Scandella does stick around all season it's because he's shown capability to play on the second pairing, which means Justin Falk most likely returns to the Aeros.
1. Niklas Backstrom
Summary: Backstrom is about due for a turn-around season and some more responsible defensive forwards could help as well as a good showing from the blue line, which should be more physically imposing with two big boys who like to use their body in Stoner and Falk (Stoner a bit more than Falk). If Backstrom has gotten over his ailments which have hurt him the last couple seasons and he shows his ability to steal games like he did three years ago, Backstrom's name could appear on All-Star Ballots or be a minority argument for end of the year honors. A GAA of 2.25 and SV% around .920 is right up Backstrom's alley.
2. Josh Harding
Summary: Some players elevate their game in a contract year. Josh Harding is stepping into a CAREER year. This season could very well determine whether he is re-dubbed a potential starter, or is accepted as a capable back-up. The Wild will be looking to get the most out of whoever they decide to trade, and Harding should get his share of starts this season. 25 starts is very realistic. A GAA under 2.50 and SV% over .915 in 30 appeareances this year could land him a job as a platoon starter on a team with shaky goaltending, giving him an opportunity to further prove himself. A performance of a GAA under 2.20 and a SV% over .925 in 30 appearances with the Wild this season MAY give Chuck Fletcher a reason to believe a future Josh Harding is worth more than a veteran Niklas Backstrom
And there you have it folks, your predicted performances for the 2011-2012 Minnesota Wild! Enjoy the opener! (I won't be able to, somebody PLEASE lobby the Armed Forces Network to air more Wild games this season)!