Bold Predictions are a tough art. Get too bold, and you're going to look ridiculous. "Jason Zucker will win the Art Ross Trophy." "Mikko Koivu: 35 goal-scorer?" If you're not bold enough, and you're just making a prediction. "Zach Parise will lead the Wild in Goals." "The Wild will finally have a good Power Play." You have to reach to the fringes of likelihood and strike that fine balance between preposterous and plausible.
Our staff at HW will be making bold predictions throughout this week, in that time we'll be trying to find that balance. We continue with: The Wild will have 4 players score 25 goals in 2014-15.
Some of you are probably dialing The Common Man right now to turn me in for the Preposterous Statement Tournament- but hold on, just for a minute. A journey over to Hockey Reference can assist us in dispelling the preposterous-ness of my claim. If you follow that link (here it is again) you will find a table of every player to score 25 or more goals in a season. If you then sort by Team Name at the top, you can easily start to see whether having 4 or more 25-goal scorers in a season is common, or extremely rare.
What we find is that it is extremely common for a team to have 3 players with 25+ goals in one season. Just a few examples: In 2013-14, Boston had 3 with Brad Marchand, Jarome Iginla, and Patrice Bergeron. Colorado had Paul Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly, and Gabriel Landeskog. Edmonton had David Perron, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle. The Penguins had James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Crosby. The Blues had Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, and Backes.... I could go on. That is a long... LONG... list of teams with 3 25-goal scorers.
"But Chris!" you might say "At the beginning you said the Wild would have 4! Show me examples of THAT!" Ok, I will. Most recently, the Blackhawks had 4 25+ scorers in Jonathan Toews, Patricks Sharp and Kane, and Marian Hossa. Pittsburg had 4 in 2011-12 with James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis. Chicago in 10-11, with Toews, Kane, Sharp, and Hossa (d'oh). Anaheim in 2008-09 had Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf. Chicago in 08-09 with Toews, Kane, Sharp and
Hossa Havlat. Detroit in the same year had Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa (double do'h!), Johan Franzen, and Pavel Datsyuk.
Finally, in the realm of the "say what?!" in 2008-2009, the Philadelphia Flyers employed Mike Richards, Joffrey Lupul, Mike Knuble, Scott Hartnell, Simon Gagne, and Jeff Carter, all of whom scored 25 or more goals.
Phew. Take a deep breath- that was a long list.
Now that we've established that having 3 or more 25 Goal Scorers is not only possible, but common, let's take a look at who these goal scorers are, and how they will attain said feat.
Jason "The Mayor Of" Pominville
Pominville was Minnesota's sole 30-goal scorer this season, marking the third time he's reach the benchmark (the previous 2 were 2006-7 and 2011-12 with the Sabres). Pominville has been a key producer for the Wild, and can be relied upon to score, especially with Mikael Granlund feeding him the puck. With Granlund's improving talent, and more players for opposing defenses to keep track of, he will almost certainly reach the 25-goal mark next season.
Zach "Captain America" Parise
Parise garnered 29 goals this past season. This included missing 15 games due to injury. At his rate of .43 goals/game (or 1.2 goals per 60 minutes), it is almost a guarantee he would have scored AT LEAST 30 goals last season. In any case, Parise can safely be expected to net 25 goals next season. He has scored 30+ goals on 5 occasions, and that would have been 6 if not for the injury last season. In the lockout-shortened 48-game season, Parise averaged .0375 goals per game (18 goals in 48 games), which would have been 30.75 goals in 82 games. In other words, if not for an injury and a lockout-shortened season, it's entirely possible Parise would have scored 30 goals 7 times in his career, including twice as a member of the Wild. 25 goals next year? No problem, barring an injury.
Thomas "Phantom Menace" Vanek
Thomas Vanek was brought on board to score goals, and this is almost certainly what he will do this next season. In his career, Vanek has reached 25 goals 8 times. This includes the 2013-14 season, during which Vanek played for 3 separate squads. Darth Maul is a scorer, and with the improved talent on the Wild (compared to the Sabres) he should have no time scoring 25 goals for the 9th time in his career.
This brings us to our fourth player to score 25 goals:
Nino "The Knightrider" Niederreiter
Nino is an exciting player. He scored 17 goals for the Wild this season (including 3 post-season goals) in 94 total games. There were a number of factors holding him back. Primarily, for much of the season, Nino was stuck behind Charlie Coyle on the depth chart. Last season, Coyle spent 458 Minutes on the ice with Mikko Koivu compared to Niederreiter's 172.
When they were on the ice together, Koivu and Niederreiter combined for 60.6% Corsi For. That is dominating. Coyle and Koivu's numbers are good- 57.1%. The picture changes when you consider that, without Koivu, Coyle's CF% plummets to a paltry 41, while Niederreiter's only decays to 47%. It's also worth remembering that Nino, when not playing with Koivu, was most often in a 3rd line "checking" role, with teammates that simply couldn't support him.
Nino's combination of speed and size makes him exactly the kind of player that can be an offensive dynamo. He has shown an affinity for long range sniping ( a la game 7 against the Avalanche), as well as being a net-front presence. Watch Nino's first three goals on Gone Puck Wild- very reminiscent of Parise and Vanek.
Still not convinced El Nino can do it?
In Zach Parise's first year with the New Jersey Devils, he played in 81 games, scored 14 regular-season goals, and had 18 assists. In Pominville's first season with the Sabres, he played 57 games, scored 18 regular-season goals, and had 12 assists. In Nino's first season with the Wild, he played 81 games, scored 14 regular-season goals, and had 22 assists. Both Parise and Pominville hit 30 goals in their second seasons- it is far from absurd to think Nino can score 11 more goals, especially if he is played in the role he deserves.
Giving a look over the Wild's roster as it stands, who stick out as the likely scorers for this offensively-deprived team? Clearly Pominville, Parise, and Vanek are your 1A, B, and C in no particular order. Who is number 2? Mikko Koivu passes first, and is a brilliant set-up player, but simply not a scorer. The same is true of Mikael Granlund (though some have said he'll net 25 goals also). Coyle has definitely improved from year one to year two despite an injury, but hasn't shown a willingness to go to the front of the net. Erik Haula could be offensively brilliant, but was benefited by a sky-high shooting percentage in the postseason. Michael Keranen was the leading scorer in his European League, but has yet to play a minute of North American hockey, and will need at least some time to adjust, if he makes the roster at all.
Nino was clearly not a fit in New York, but has forged himself one here in the State of Hockey. He has shown the ability to score, and is exactly the kind of player who is ripe for a breakout season next year. It is anything but preposterous to think he could score 25 goals next year, particularly with two mentors who had similar first seasons and netted more than 30 the next year.