The Minnesota Wild power play has been a sore spot for fans over many years. Last year seemed to be no different, as they finished 16th in the league, operating at a 17.9% success rate. The reality however, is that when healthy, the power play operated at a top ten efficiency. Injuries to Parise and Koivu sent the power play into a tailspin that resulted in an eight game stretch without a power play goal. Keeping their stars healthy this year could lead the Wild into top ten power play success for the first time since 09-10. It appears though, that the Wild do not just want to rely on health for improvements. They have decided to place all power play responsibilities in the hands of new assistant coach Andrew Brunette. The one big change that may result from having Brunette call the shots for the power play, is that he will be willing to experiment with personnel. Reports out of practice indicate that this is indeed the case It appears likely that Mathew Dumba will be taking what used to be Jason Pominville's (and often times Jared Spurgeon's) spot on left defense, and Pominville will slide down into the slot/rover position on the first power play unit left vacant by the departure of Matt Moulson. The biggest change will be the "demotion" of Mikko Koivu to the second power play unit, and the ascension of Mikael Granlund to the number one group. Now, this lineup is likely to change a game or two into the season, but I thought it would be interesting to examine what we might see differently from this young and exciting new top power play unit.
Last year, the Wild generally looked to set up the power play on the right side of the ice. Nothing should change this year from this perspective, as Granlund, Pominville and Dumba all have the same handedness as the guys they are replacing. Setting up on the right side maximizes the possibility of one timers from all positions.
The power play should run through Granlund on the half wall, just as it did with Koivu last year. From the half-wall position, Granlund will have a number of options. He can move it low to Parise who can then walk out front for a shot if the defense's rotation is slow, he can sift a pass to the slot for a quick shot from Pominville, or move it back to Suter to relieve some pressure and set up a shot from the point. The one big drawback of having Granlund in this spot is that his weak shot removes the threat of a shot from the half-wall position. Shooting from the half-wall is a low percentage play, but the threat causes the defenders to remain honest and not cheat too far into the passing lanes. Granlund will have to use his incredible vision, creativity and passing ability to make up for what he lacks firing the biscuit.
The favorite play of last year's top power play group out of this setup was a quick pass out to Suter from Koivu (now Granlund), who then swings it to a wide open Pomiville (now Dumba) for a one-timer from the top of the circle.
The Dumba one-timer will no doubt be one of the most entertaining aspects of this new power play group. Cries of "shoooooooooooot" should no longer ring through the X if Dumba has the green light from the coaches. His canon from the top of the circle should also lead to plenty more rebounds and loose pucks around the front of the net. And the front of the net on the man advantage is where Zach Parise's millions get made. Parise, much like his new power play coach used to be, is a master of getting lost behind defensive coverage and sneaking to the front of the net just at the right time to put home loose pucks. Just observe how Parise is hanging out at the side of the net in the first picture, and as soon as the puck is moved to the defense, in a span of one second, he appears in front of the net with no defenders within five feet. With his elite finishing ability around the net, Parise is the one player the Wild cannot afford to lose if they want to be a dominant power play team.
The one big tactical change that we may see early on from Brunette's power play, is much more movement from Dumba on the point. There were many times last year when the puck was moved down low to Parise in the same instance as the first screenshot, and he had no option to pass, so he resorted to jamming the puck on net from the side of the goal. With Dumba's mobility, he could easily slide down to the top of the net as soon as the puck is moved to Parise and make himself an extremely dangerous option for a one-timer. Dumba could also slide down to the top of the circle and open up for a dangerous, but rewarding, cross-ice pass from Granlund for a one-timer. Passes like this will be what allow Granlund to stick on this power play unit over Koivu, who tended to shy away from risky plays.
With Brunette in charge of the power play this year, it would not be surprising to see more of a focus on getting pucks on goal, and crashing the net for rebounds. It will be interesting to see how Pominville responds to operating in some tighter spaces around the net, as he is more accustomed to playing outside and on the point on the power play. The Wild now have three shooters in Dumba, Parise and Pominville on the top unit, but Suter is also going to have to be willing to pull the trigger from the point. This will be especially necessary if defenses start cheating to Dumba's side of the ice to take away his shooting lane.
If Dumba and Granlund intend on sticking on this top power play group, they need to play aggressively with the puck. For Granlund, that means not being afraid to make a cross-ice pass through the box of the penalty killers. Dumba should be thinking shot every time the puck even comes near his stick. If those two extraordinarily talented young players are able to simplify their game, and more importantly, execute when it counts, we may have the treat of watching one of the best power play units in the league this year.