Today starts the grading process for the team. We are doing things a little differently this season however. The editors/managers will be giving one set of grades for each position, and the staff writers will be presenting their grades for the same group the day after, except for on Fridays when you will be blessed with TWO sets of grades on the same day.
Look for the forwards this week, the blue line and goalies next week, and the brass the week after that. We tried to group each player into the position they played the most for the Wild this season, and not necessarily what position NHL.com or hockeydb has them listed as.
Today, we start with the left wingers. JS wanted it noted that this season, he's going to be VERY HARD on grades. Whatever that is suppose to mean.
Bryan- Parise is everything he was billed to be, and more. Watching a guy a few times a year, and hearing the stories just doesn't do justice sometimes. Parise is a prime example. Fans are paying hard earned money just to watch him play, and it makes perfect sense. This is the first time since Gaborik left that the Wild have a true personality at forward. Hard on the puck all the time, never says quit, never gives up... the guy is a machine. A-
Dan- He was everything he was advertised to be. He led the team in regular season scoring and worked his ass off almost every single night. But grades goes down but he was absolutely snuffed out during the playoffs. Not all his fault, the team just sucks at scoring goals, but we really needed him to step up which he just couldn't. B+
Emilie- The only thing you can say is that this guy is a workhorse. Yes, it would have been nice for him to produce more at the end of the year than he did, but it is very easy to forget all of the great things he did throughout the year and only focus on the end of the season. Parise had the never quit, keep pushing, playing above his size attitude that Wild fans have been craving for years. A-
JS- He was, night in, night out, one of the hardest workers on the Wild this season, and the results were there...until about the last 20 games of the season. He and Koivu completely disappeared down the stretch and it damn near made the Wild miss the playoffs. Sure, the whole team was playing like garbage, but if Koivu hadn't posted 4 points in the last 14 games of the season and Parise 7 in those same 14, we wouldn't even be talking about their first round exit to the Chicago Blackhawks (maybe it would be to another team, but who knows?). It's hard to discern what exactly happened to those two in that last stretch, but it's something that needs to not become a trend.
Fact of the matter is he still had a very good season by usual Wild standards, but he's being paid to do more than that and linemates are no excuse. At least the effort is there, and it's hard to fault him on that, but we'll still need more from him. We need that gamebreaking ability the Wild have never had since Marian Gaborik's departure. C+
Bryan- Heaters gonna... well... get shut off, I guess. Heatley had a decent season going, even though his numbers continue to decline. He is slower than he was before, which is remarkable, and just doesn't have the ability to keep up with what the Wild were trying to do this season. It's a speed game now, and Heatley just isn't in it. Still, he took his demotion in stride, and continued to produce on the power play. His presence there was sorely missed as the season wound down, and into the playoffs. That reason alone saves his grade. C+
Dan- You could watch the sunset at the speed he skated. Look, he has a great shot, he works hard and is a decent all-round player. But he has a huge 7.5 million dollar cap hit that extends to next season and he drags down any line he's on. Still, he managed to produce some secondary scoring so I'll give him a generous grade. C
Emilie- Heatley is a tough person to grade. He's slowed down remarkably, and frankly when he wasn't injured he was one of the biggest liabilities in the defensive zone on the team. But at the same time you can't deny that he has a nose for the net, and point production for the Wild took a dive as soon as he was injured. His contract plays a heavy role in his grade, because as great as he can be, he isn't worth the price of his contract B-
JS- Dany Heatley: He's kind of hard to grade. He's WAY too expensive for the role he played and the points he put up, yet he gave the Wild 3 solid lines and was a pretty big part of the Wild's mid-season success. Injuries to he and Cullen partly sent the Wild into a downward spiral because the chemistry that was achieved between the lines was ruined. We need to accept he's not the Dany Heatley of old anymore, and he still would've finished 2nd on the team in goals in a full-ish 48 game season, but his paycheck is pretty heavy for a team that needs to lighten the load.
That being said, 2nd on the Wild in goals usually isn't saying much and there were too many times where I felt Heatley was a total non-factor. Gripes about his speed are worthless, because he's never been all that fast, and it's certainly not because of his age. Heatley can still be a dangerous, rather clutch scorer, but as strange as it is to say, considering the Wild need scoring, I think we've seen the last of Heatley in a Wild jersey. He was markedly better all-around than Martin Havlat though, so props for that. C
Bryan- For some reason, people really don't like Rupp. When Konopka got hurt, and the fans needed a scapegoat, apparently the only one that they felt could be ripped on without anger from other fans was Rupp. Complaints about dumb penalties and slow play didn't seem to fit what I saw on the ice, as Rupp was a difference maker, in favor of the Wild,more times than he wasn't. He plays a strong defensive game, and no, is not the fastest guy on the ice. I'm really not sure what people expect from the fourth line guys, but whatever it is... it's never going to happen. Take this offseason to reassess. B
Dan- When he's on, he can carry the entire fourth line forecheck by himself. When he's off, he is actually a liability. In a shorten season, we were lucky to not see too much of his misfortunes but seriously, if he upside is a great forecheck with the downside being a goal against, it just might not be worth it to keep him around for too long. C
Emilie- One of the most important things to remember about giving season grades (at least for me) is to remember that it's not necessarily about point production. It's about how they played their role on the team. And for the most part Rupp played his role on the team well. A big body who was good for a fight if need be. With the news that he will be having surgery for a knee problem, I'm giving him a little leeway on the speed issue. B
JS- I won't say he was necessarily all that effective, but I was still surprised he wasn't totally useless. He had some pretty good moments during the season and helped make the 4th line one that could actually be played during games. However, his propensity for ill-timed penalties and rather poor playoff showing made him forgettable. Looks like size isn't everything. D
Bryan- Speed, finesse, a sick shot, and a nose for the net. Zucker is everything the Wild need in their top 6. There is little to no chance he winds up in Iowa next season, as he has proven himself to be a dangerous weapon night in and night out. He has a Parise-esque feel to his game, and is seemingly always where the puck is. Give him the spot now, and write it in ink. B+
Dan- In his first game with the Wild, he glued together the second line that the Wild used the rest of the season with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi. His speed, his tenacity and his willingness to shot from everywhere brought new life to the team and he never backed off. Good job kid! A
Emilie- one of the biggest surprises of the season. Although...If I remember correctly I did argue that he would be a 2nd liner in the NHL before the season started. He's got some things to learn still, but factoring in his age, he's on the fast track to making an impact for many years on this team. He's got a bit of growing up to do still, but he's going to be just fine. He needs to work a bit on puck battles, being a bit more sound defensively, and not having as many turnovers for next season, but these are all things that should get easier as he gets more experience B
JS- Man, is this kid fun to watch, or what? The progress he has made is pretty amazing, considering I had him pegged for a 3rd line tweener NEXT season. In the playoffs, he was arguably the Wild's best offensive player in terms of chances, speed and overtime game-winning goals <3 <3 <3 <3 <3. Make no mistake, there were a lot of growing pains though. He's not exactly the best playmaker, and he admitted this himself. This means he'll often cough the puck up for no good reason and was even scolded by Matt Cullen at least one or two times during the season and playoffs. His play away from the puck could use some work, though I thought his forechecking was pretty good. 5 points in 20 season games is decent for a rookie, and you can't help but wonder what could have been if not for Corey Perry ruining his momentum.
Now with Jason Pominville in the mix, and depending what happens with Matt Cullen, he may need to do some extra work to keep that cushy 2nd line spot, but extra work is practically this kid's middle name. Can't help but think Matt Cullen and Zach Parise were tremendous mentors to Zook.
And it pains me to admit this... but Emilie was right: This kid has the makings of a second line forward. Too bad I still won the debate. #TeamSyrupyMoose. B-
Bryan- Tough grade here, as if you were giving grades on what the expectations were before the season, he clearly exceeded them all. No one thought he was ever coming back, let alone come back and produce. There were times he looked unwilling to go into a battle, but those times were fewer than some others on the team. He still has the dang fly-up-the-boards-and-curl-
Dan- I really do like PMB as a player and person, but he struggled almost the entire season with his offense. Considering his style of play, if he isn't scoring and putting up assists, he is a non-factor on the ice. D
Emilie- Oh PMB. No one expected him to be back this season. He was streaky all season, but showed he can still play the game. When he was playing well, he was on fire. When he was cold...he was a liability in almost every way. There were a lot of times this season that he was just invisible. I'd be very surprised to see him in a Wild jersey next season but wish him all the luck in the future. C
JS- He had a much better season than people give him credit for, especially since he was doubtful to even play in the NHL again. He seemed to get pushed into playing better by Jason Zucker threatening to steal his spot. While Zucker did end up on the 2nd line, PMB made the 3rd line a decent scoring threat along with Brodziak and Clutterbuck/Heatley. The reason people got on him is because of terrible inconsistency. He would disappear for a few games and then go on 4-5 game tears. Reader Ger Devine often pointed out during games that PMB was one of the few Wild players posting good advanced stats and he did this playing with Kyle Brodziak a lot of the time, who gets a lot of the tough minutes for the Wild. PMB also ended +3, the first time since 2007-2008 he's been in the positives. Really, PMB had a pretty good season overall, despite what some haters will tell you.
There's a big enough chance this is the last we've seen of PMB in a Wild uniform. It's sad, but both sides need to move on here and start fresh. Another chapter of the Wild of yesteryear is ending. Good luck PMB, and thanks for everything. B-