With the return of the NHL, it is likely helpful to take a few steps backwards and take a look at just what exactly the Wild tool chest holds. With the season previews starting to roll out, and the advanced stats crowd already predicting the Wild to finish somewhere in the bottom 10 of the league, it's time to jump in and get out feet wet.
We'll take a look at each position, gauge relative strength or weakness, and make a handful of predictions about what we think might happen. All standard fare.
Today we review the position that oh so many "experts" point to when they make their claim that the Wild won't make the playoffs. Last year, it was because the Wild didn't have a shut down d-man, or any puck movers. The Wild traded their top defenseman in Nick Schultz for the puck moving Tom Gilbert, and then signed one of the top all around defensemen in the league in Ryan Suter. Jared Spurgeon continues to progress, and the Wild have a couple top prospects that won't be traded for Cam Barker coming up the ranks.
Let's take a quick look at who's around.
One of the greatest things about the Wild signing Suter was watching how fast all of the fans for the teams that he was supposed to sign with dismissed him as being less than quality. They spend four month fawning over him, but as soon as he signed here, they found every reason they could to discredit and slam him.
That's fine. He's here, and he instantly takes the Wild's blue line from mediocre into the land of respectability. Anyone who tells you otherwise has an overstock of sour grapes.
One day, Spurgeon is going to get the attention he deserves. Right now he is flying beneath everyone's radar (insert short joke here), but give him a season paired with Suter, and quite a few more people are going to know his name. Is he ever going to be Shea Weber? Highly unlikely bordering on not a chance, but the kid can flat out play. He's gaining confidence quickly, and his shot is developing nicely. He has the moves of a forward and a canon of a shot.
This could very well be Spurgeon's breakout year.
The one you've all been waiting for. I'm not going to say I like the trade, but the last handful of games, Gilbert sucked a lot less than the first handful. Given some time to work into the system, we can only hope that the glowing reviews of Gilbert from around the league turn out to be true. This is one case in which I really would not mind being wrong.
Stoner is one of a growing number of Wild defensive prospects that are quickly falling down the depth chart. He is big, he is strong, and he has shown he can be a solid bottom pair d-man. Defense only, little to no offense. Expect nothing more, and you'll be just fine. Of the question marks on the blue line, the confidence is highest with Stoner.
Falk is a guy that just can't seem to find that last gear. The big man improved a bit last season, but he still needs to exert himself and be dominant in his space. He is now a fringe NHL / AHL player,who will be fighting for time this season. If he can't find the game, the Brodins and Dumbas of the world are quickly going to pass him by.
After Prosser signed his contract, his season went down the tubes. This season will mark a chance for Stifler to re-emerge and reclaim hi roster spot as his own. Being on a one way deal will help his chances of sticking around, but it won't keep him on the game day roster. He, Stoner, and Falk are likely all vying for the same ice time, so whichever one wants the ice time is going to need to figure it out.
Another prospect that took the step into the NHL, and got hung up. He shows some real flashes of brilliance, and then takes a step backward. He needs to become the d-man he can be, and he needs to do so quickly, or like the other guys above, he is going to get left behind. Given the right opportunities, and if he seizes those chances, Scandella could be a very good defenseman. He just needs to realize that for himself.
Some feel Kampfer is in the future plans for the Wild. I don't see it. Suter, Spurgeon, Gilbert are locks. Brodin and Dumba have to be in the cards. Kampfer looks to me to be a stop gap, fringe level player here for insurance against injury. The kid has something to his game, but I have yet to see the X factor that makes me say "yep, that's an NHLer." Even less so than Stoner, Falk, or Prosser. All great guys, all much better at the game than I am, just not quite there.
One of two players that has the four players wanting the bottom pairing of the Wild's defense shaking in their proverbial boots. Dumba looks like he is going to get a cup of coffee before being shipped back to Red Deer, which is good for him. Just so long as he goes back to Red Deer (he'll have to with the contract situation), and then takes a stop in Houston. Development is key, as always. He hits like a tank, but needs his time.
Yes, Dumba has a player profile, but Brodin doesn't. You tell me.
Brodin is the great hope on the blue line. If he were a Native American, his name would be "Skates Like Wind." Smooth, smart, fast... Brodin is the total package. The Granlund of the blueline, if you will. One day, Brodin is going to be on the Wild full time, and the team is going to be much, much better for it. For now, Brodin is likely the first call up out of Houston if needed.
Included only because if we don't, you're going to ask. Cuma looks to be a journeyman AHLer in the making. Injuries took this kid down, which is unfortunate, as he works as hard as anyone out there. It just doesn't look lie it is in the card.
The defensive lineup for the Wild is vastly improved from last season, and is only looking to get better. The experts continue to point to the corps and say "there's your problem." It is a bit mind boggling to read that, to be honest. Two moves considered to be upgrades within a short period of time, both of which address a need these critics said the Wild had. Yet, it is somehow not good enough. Damn you, Shea Weber, for not signing here.
The defense is better. If, and it is a big if, the bottom three can pick it up a bit, the critics could be surprised. If not, the Wild will be on the outside looking in very quickly, and the fringe players will be visiting Mission Command on weekends.