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Minnesota Wild 2011-12 Season Preview: Forwards

Anyone used to seeing this yet?
Anyone used to seeing this yet?

Starting today, and ending on Friday, Hockey Wilderness will take a look at the Minnesota Wild, and give a quick preview to the season. After some highly questionable season previews, we hope this one will serve as a better look at the squad and the upcoming season.

In part one, we look at the forward ranks, a source of quite a bit of change this summer, and a source of a great deal of hope among Wild fans. Anytime a team can go from Antti Miettinen to Dany Heatley, things have improved. Or... at least that's the hope.

After the jump, a look at the additions, subtractions, and how some of the HW staff feels this will influence the on-ice product.

Additions: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Darroll Powe

Subtractions: Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat, John Madden, Chuck Kobasew

The moves made by Chuck Fletcher show a definite shift from the previous thinking of Wild management. Bringing in two offense first players, with proven scoring touch is going to be an upgrade. We have discussed, at length, what this means for the team. The changes made increase the offensive ability, and removed nearly every source of fan scapegoating available.

Martin Havlat is gone, for better or worse. Antti "Souvenir Puck Dispenser" Mittenen is gone, and Andrew Brunette took his veteran leadership to Chicago. The departure of John Madden, coupled with Brunette, is a big loss in the "savvy" department, meaning the young guys, and the core players are going to have to find their own sources of direction. The departure of Chuck Kobasew is like finding out someone from your high school got fired. Sure, it doesn't make you happy, but it sure isn't much of a loss for you.

It remains to be seen how the changes will effect the team, and the overall flow, but early in camp, the lines seem to have more chemistry than we have seen in three years. The top six are going to be dangerous, and the bottom six are going to be very difficult to play against. The Powe - Eric Nystom - Cal Clutterbuck line is going to drive the opposition's top lines insane, and leave them black and blue on a nightly basis.

When it comes down to it, the forwards are stronger than they have been in years. I wouldn't overlook this forward corps if I were an opposing coach.

Question to Answer

We know the offensive impact of the offseason moves, but do you think the defensive play of the forwards will be better or worse and why?

Elise: I don't think there will be a huge difference in the defensive play of the forwards and overall it should end up better because of the offense that they add. All of the forwards that the Wild lost this year, with the exception of Andrew Brunette and John Madden, could be defensive liabilities at times and have essentially been replaced with seemingly better fits. But looking at ratio, even if the new group of forwards is less defensive, the expected offensive output still makes them more beneficial to the Wild than last season's group.

JS: I believe the defensive play of the forwards might take a hit, because of the departures of Miettinen and Madden, but Powe is no slouch in that department. However, Yeo's system, which could take a few games to implement, is a shot prevention system, meaning the defensive play could be ugly to start with, but should be just fine as the season rolls along. There are many good penalty-killers on the team, such as Koivu, Brodziak, Powe, Cullen, Nystrom and Clutterbuck.

Bryan: As unpopular as it might be of an opinion, I think the defensive play of the forwards last year was the Wild's biggest issue. The offense wasn't spectacular, but opposing teams could take all the time they needed and do whatever they want in the Wild's defensive zone. This allowed the Wild to be badly outshot, and cost them quite a few games. People want to comment on the poor defense... put that on the forwards.

With a new aggressive trap in place, the forwards will be called on to play more and more defense than ever. The third line looks very tough, and the fourth line will likely have a couple youngsters on it who will have to step up or be replaced. All-in-all, it doesn't look vastly improved, but it is improved.

Nathan: Last season, the forwards seemed to not know whether they were going or coming, and as a result were lost in no man's land. They were neither overly aggressive in the offensive zone, hoping to outscore the opposition; nor were they content in locking-down their defensive responsibilities, forcing turnovers and capitalizing on mistakes. Now with a new system (again) and new parts, I expect to see some growing pains, but there will be a bigger emphasis on shooting the puck and taking the zone with speed. Will that impact the defensive responsibilities? Honestly, who knows? We're looking at an aggressive neutral zone trap, turning the puck over at the blue line and breaking down the wings. That's the philosophy, and they look to have the tools to make that happen. It will depend upon the center of each line to control the defensive aspect and feed the scoring wings. The third and fourth lines are set up to beat the other team with physical play and keep the opposition penned in and force them to make mistakes or take penalties. 

Prediction of the Day

What impact do the additions of Heatley and Setoguchi have on Mikko Koivu?

Elise: They're going to help Koivu quite a bit. He finally has the kind of linemates that can help him explode offensively (and maybe get certain people to stop griping about his contract). If the 8 points in the Sept. 23 pre-season game was any indication, it could be a very, very good season for that line.

JS: Koivu should finally emerge as a top playmaker in this league with the arrivals of two proven snipers. If he was able to flirt with the 50 assist mark for three years with Miettinen and Brunette on his wings, 60 isn't far-fetched with Heatley and Setoguchi. Also, playing with these two will probably allow him to concentrate even more on his two-way game now that he's not charged with the task of scoring. Hard to imagine him not having a career year if injuries don't get in the way.

Bryan: If the one preseason game is any indication, Koivu will be an all-star this season. Obviously, the eight point night isn't going to happen every night, but Koivu should improve offensively, and also be able to concentrate of the defensive game. Coach Yeo says he wants Koivu to win the Selke, and I think that is a real possibility with the line he is on.

The installation of two shooters in place of a garbage goal scorer and a guy who couldn't hit the net if Roberto Luongo was goaltending makes Koivu much, much better. This is perfect timing as well, as Koivu's big contract goes into effect, and it is time for all excuses to be put to bed.

Nathan: Mikko Koivu has two guys who have high career shot totals and a decent shooting percentage. Neither Setoguchi and Heatley have met a shot they didn't like (sounds like Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston) and with a premier playmaker and tenacious backchecker like Koivu, they should have more than their fair share of scoring chances. With offensive talent on his line, Koivu should be looking at a career year in terms of points. The target has to be 82 points here. 

There you have it, Wilderness. What thoughts do you have on the forwards?