The Wild just lost Charlie Coyle for a month. Boo. That sucks. Charlie Coyle appeared to be on the verge of a breakout season, coming into camp looking like he improved in every facet of the game. He was the Wild's second-line center, which enabled Mikael Granlund to play on the third line with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak, where he's fit in surprisingly well. Coyle will also be missed because of his size. The Wild were already the second lightest team in the league, and while Koivu and Heatley have size, Coyle leaving the lineup doesn't help the Wild in that department.
But while the loss of Coyle will seem to hurt, the Wild do have Granlund to step into his void in the second line. Also, while Jason Zucker doesn't directly replace what Coyle does, he will provide an energetic, offensive element the Wild have historically lacked in their call-ups. So while this sucks, we're not talking a worst-case scenario here.
But what is?
What is the one player the Wild can't afford to lose? Let's take a look at some candidates, and I'd be glad to hear your thoughts in the comments.
See Suter, Ryan, just take away the elite offensive ability.
This probably won't be many people's candidates, but let's think about it. Kyle Brodziak centers the third line, and does so while providing a gritty defensive game, is essential to the penalty kill, and even chips in offensively. His absence doesn't have an ideal solution. Konopka and Rupp play center, but can't play 15+ minutes, Granlund is an offensive player, Coyle (if healthy) can do it, but you'd rather see him in a Top-6 role. Throw in the fact that you'd have to give more tough/PK minutes to Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, which the Wild do not want to have to do this season, and Brodziak is more essential to this team than he initially appears.
While we've been having our expectations managed on Granlund after a rough season last year, the pressure is back on him now. He'll have to center the second line in Coyle's absence. If he goes down, the Wild will have to put an even less experienced option in Justin Fontaine or Erik Haula in that role. While it's possible that Jason Pominville could play center in an emergency, the Wild weren't even considering him in camp, so I'd guess he wouldn't be in the running.
While vetting this topic with my dad, this was his answer, and looking at the Wild's recent performance when Koivu gets hurt/fatigued, it's hard to argue the point. As Mikko has gone, so has the Wild, as the collapse of 2011-12 and near-collapse of 2013 coincided strongly with him physically losing his effectiveness. Koivu missing time makes a huge hole on the first line, one that would require a strong two-way possession game to fill. Charlie Coyle could theoretically step into that hole if needed, but since he's injured, it's a moot point if Koivu goes down in Nashville tonight.
We're talking about the same Zach Parise who notched two power play goals against the Ducks on Friday. He's good. What the Wild would miss in his absence isn't only the strong, gritty two-way game he brings. No, Parise is also the Wild's most prolific shooter, and it isn't even really close. He now has more than double the shots of anyone else on the Wild (14-6), and that's not a fluke. Last year, he out-shot anyone else on the Wild by more than a shot per game. That's a lot of pucks to the net to need to replace.
My choice for this. I believe Ryan Suter is, along with Jonas Brodin, the cornerstone to the Wild's season. Suter defends well. Suter moves the puck. Suter can put up offense and run the power play. But perhaps most importantly, Suter can do those things for almost a half hour a night. Losing Suter means having to fill in those 27 minutes a night with someone else, and those candidates are filled with question marks. Luckily, we know a broken rib won't stop this guy.
What do you think Wilderness? Which of these do you think is the Wild's most indispensable? Anyone I looked over in the mix?