During this off-season, Minnesota Wild Manager Chuck Fletcher, made several changes that left spots for our promising youth to get a shot to help get the Wild back in the playoffs, but the question marks on each line the Minnesota Wild will strut out this year will be magnified because this is a team that could either make a deep playoff run or take a dramatic step back this season.
The main concern for fans with the Minnesota Wild coming into the season is that Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, and Ryan Suter are going to be expected to carry the team, and our youth guns like Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, and Nino Niederreiter are expected to produce at a high level coming into sophomore seasons.
Since the line combinations are not set to stone due to changes during the season, I will make clear about who gonna be paired together and what the huge question mark is.
Forward Line #1
Will Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu find a connection this year?
Zach Parise- Mikko Koivu- Jason Pominville
Parise has always been an elite scoring forward and Koivu has always been setting good plays that have contributed on the first line. They are two of the most talented players in the team, and probably in the league. And they are rewarded greatly for that. But they both failed to find a spark in the playoffs, and some miscues during the regular season.
A big reason for that was because Parise signed with the Wild during a potential lockout season that had only 48- games in play. Thus, they barley had time to develop chemistry during training camp and had short practice time to make things spark during that 48-game season.
Well, that will all change this year, and hopefully the two will have a great connection once the season starts.
Forward Line #2
Will Mikael Granlund be a great second-line center?
Nino Niederreiter- Mikael Granlund- Dany Heatley
There's actually three concerns for this line. Aside from the team concerning that Granlund will play second-line minutes, the team also has to worry that if Heatley can have a good performance this season, along with Niederreiter's chance of changing his scenery after coming from the New York Islanders organization.
Heatley has gone from an elite 50-goal scorer to a 20-25 goal scorer in the past few years, and Niederreiter went from being a 18-year old franchise "savoir" for the Islanders to getting shoved down to the minor leagues during his time with the Islanders.
The fate of the two players rests, well at least in part, on Granlund, who came in last season with a lot of hype and was the kind of player to boost the Wild offense.
The point is that, if Granlund has a good season, Heatley might get into maybe the 30-40 goal range and Niederreiter will show everyone why he was considered an elite star. But, if these players can't find their game or chemistry, things will get into a mess in a hurry.
Forward Line #3
Can Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle avoid sophomore slumps?
Jason Zucker- Charlie Coyle- Torrey Mitchell
Zucker and Coyle came up and absolutely dominated last season.
Coyle was really impressive when he joined the first-line with Parise and Koivu until it switched when Pominville came in a trade. Even at the age of 21, he looked comfortable at NHL level playing with two of Minnesota Wild's Franchise players and quickly has love from the fans (including me) from his play.
Zucker looked like a mini-Parise with his gritty play and speed. He is small in size but with great strength by fearlessly running over opponents and displayed a scoring touch.
There are high expectations for both players next season. Zucker and Coyle could easily be on the second line if Heatley or Niederreiter don't exceed expectations, and he could even get some time on the first line if their play benefits it.
At the same time, it’s hard to live up to high expectations especially when you're coming into the season as a second-year player. Other teams are going to have their scouting on both guys and try to exploit their weaknesses. They have to be ready to make adjustments and improve if they want to have success in 2013-14.
Forward Line #4
Mike Rupp- Kyle Brodziak- Matt Cooke
Minnesota has a pretty nasty fourth-line if these guys stay healthy. Even though Brodziak isn't considered a "nasty player", he's a pretty much a tough customer, but with a scoring touch.
These guys will play tough minutes. If all three can stay on the ice this year, it will be hard for opponents to score on the Wild, including that Konopka will see playing time, Konopka is a great face-off man, Rupp has a ton of size, Brodziak can play in big situations, and Cooke is always on the puck.
If not, things will be a little less secure. There are still pretty young, there will be changes on the roster that would fill in for those guys like Jake Dowell, Stephane Veilleux, and Zenon Konopka. But putting the best fourth-line out there would probably mean relying on the players that have played a lot of grinder minutes and contributed some scoring throughout their careers.
Defensive Line #1
Is Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter Superhuman?
Jonas Brodin- Ryan Suter
This is sort of in for a laugh, I mean they're made out of human flesh.
But upon more examination, however, it's not to wonder if they're from Mars or Jupiter. Suter played over 30 minutes during some games, and didn't seem to be out of gas, and Brodin stepped in at the age of 19, now 20, played a 20- year veteran.
Neither really made mistakes in their own end; but in fact, they're so good that we barley noticed if there was any mistakes on their end with their great play.
Are these players robots? You tell me.
Defensive Line #2
Will Marco Scandella be able to handle a full 82-game season?
Marco Scandella- Keith Ballard
There's actually two concerns with this line. Scandella spent all of last season down with Houston but got the call-up for the playoffs against the Chicago Blackhwaks and should be paired with Ballard this year.
He signed a two-year deal in the off-season, and at age 23, he is an overlooked part of the youth movement. Scandella has shown a lot of promise from his play in the playoffs, and could show promise in the future as a top-4 D-man.
Still, this will be his first full season in the NHL since 2011-12, when he recorded 12 points in 63 games and had a minus-22 rating. Last year he played about as many games in the playoffs (five games) as he did in the regular season (six games), and while he held his own against Chicago, he needs to show that he can be productive for a full 82-game season.
Still, even though he's still considered a productive physical puck-moving defenseman, he still needs a change in scenery that he can prove to be a good productive D-man like he once was in his past years.
Ballard will be motivated for a bounce-back year. But if he's not worth of his contract, things can get messy quickly.
Defensive Line #3
Could Jonathon Blum become a valuable D-man like he once was?
Jared Spurgeon- Jonathon Blum
Things didn't go as well the past year and a half with the Nashville Predators. Blum wasn't able to play his game like he wanted to there.
Now he has the chance to show the Wild that he'll give the blue-line more flexibility and depth. Blum is an intelligent player who can move the puck and generate offense. He will replace Clayton Stoner since Stoner is known as a turnover prone, but does provide physical ability to the roster.
It'll be interesting to see how long the Wild stick with him and where Prosser and Stoner fit in if Blum remains on the third pairing all season long. And we'll be able to see some more D-men that could see playing time in Steven Kampfer, and Mathew Dumba if any injuries occur.
Everyone has their strength and weakness. Certainly there is room for discussion about which players deserve to go where, but right now it looks like the top forward line is going to be veteran-based, while the middle two are going to carry a lot of youngsters.
Defensively, the Wild will probably pair a veteran with a 20-year-old to balance out the experience levels. This means that our players have few questions to answer this coming season.
Another Critical question with Goal-Tending: Can the backup goaltenders step up and be as dependable as last year?
Niklas Backstrom is a steady goaltender that's getting older, and he will be heavily relied on, but he can't play the whole season. Josh Harding was outstanding in the playoffs last year, and Darcy Kuemper could be a solid 3rd stringer if Harding isn't able to go hard again.
Just expect all three goalies to see playing time. Expect Keumper to see some playing time to give Harding a break with his health.
But if all goalies can stay healthy (especially Backstrom and Harding) the team will be fine. The Wild do have Goal-Tending depth. They just need to use Backstrom and Harding carefully.