I was considering "D-Depth Chart" as the headline, but I assumed people would just stutter inside their heads so that was a no-go from the get-go. So that's for you out there. I DO THIS SO YOU WOULD LIKE ME.
But on we go with the topic.
Now, most people consider it to be a foregone conclusion that the top-4 defensemen will be, in no particular order; Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Keith Ballard. The only player with any real question marks there is the man with the bachelor-esque smile, Ballard. After three mostly disappointing seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, Ballard should be fired up to prove his value to the Wild.
But the thing is, you never really know if a player is able to make the adjustments needed to regain that lost confidence, or if he is able to find the level of play he was once known for. Although with a modest cap hit of $1,5 million, Ballard seems destined to fill that top-4 role with the Wild. The competition for that TOP-4 spot isn't exactly elite-level, so that should help.
Now, about that competition. Who are the go-to-guys behind the go-to-guys (Need some more hyphens? I know a guy)? Clayton Stoner edges out the rest of the competition in terms of games played with the Wild. But I would love to see anyone else than Stoner in the 3rd pair on a regular basis. I like his attitude, but the general ability to execute any kind of plays on the ice is a glaring weakness in Stoner's game. A one-way contract might mean a spot on the team for Stoner though, even if that spot is located somewhere near Mike Russo during game days.
Marco Scandella is in the running for a 3rd pair spot as well, but if I had any say in the matter (which I, for a reason unclear to me, do not have), the Wild would have Jonathon Blum and Mathew Dumba in the opening day roster.
Now, Dumba should be a fairly familiar name to the Wilderness faithful, so I'm not going to go on and tell you why I'd love to see a player with huge upside, a booming shot and a tendency to imitate a freight truck when launching himself into guys on the open ice suit up for the Wild.
But Blum is an interesting player. His career path resembles that of Spurgeon's, with a few exceptions. He's a skilled skater with obvious NHL-level puck-moving skills. Not the biggest of guys, but makes up a bit for his lack of size with his skating and stick work. And when I say he's a skilled skater, I don't necessarily mean that he has a straight line speed that you take notice of, but he's extremely smooth when changing pace and direction, and his first 2 to 3 strides are quick. That comes into play when he's defending in his own zone.
For example, if you compare him to Stoner in the defensive zone, it's not even fair. Where Stoner has a theoretical chance of pushing guys around and forcing them to turn the puck over, but misses the opportunities because he can't keep up with most forwards, Blum is much more effective with his stick work and positionally sound play. Blum also has terrific recovery skills, meaning that he can challenge forwards a bit around the corners, while never really harming the balance of the defense and leaving the other 4 guys in trouble.
Now, Blum also has his weaknesses. Bigger forwards will sometimes make him look bad, but I'll take that ten times out of nine if the other option is any forward making a defenseman look bad, as is the case with Stoner or Nate Prosser during most games.
The only real question in my scenario is whether you should be playing Blum and Dumba on the same pair, and maybe you shouldn't. If Ballard in fact does regain the level of play he displayed while he was with the Florida Panthers, there is a case to be made in pairing him with Dumba. If Dumba doesn't make the team, Scandella might be your best choice there.
The bottom-4 behind Suter and Brodin will have their weaknesses, no matter how you switch the players around. But I'll take guys who you can give the puck and trust them to do something positive with it, rather than have the Stoners and Prossers of the world run around the ice 10+ minutes per game. A guy like Blum or Dumba won't win you many games, but they sure as hell won't get you in trouble every time when there's a first sign of even a mildly-aggressive forecheck.
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