We've a lot to get to today, so here are the grades for the Minnesota Wild in this terrible, horrifying season.
Instead of having each writer judge each player, we had each of our writers pick three players that stood out to us, and three players that fell short of our expectations. Without further adieu, let's go!
Marco Scandella - A-
Scandella has been my favorite Wild player to watch all season long. The extent to which he improved his skating in the offseason is remarkable. I don't think it is a stretch to say he has been the most impactful player on the roster up to this point.
Jason Zucker - B+
No Wild player is producing even strength shots at a faster pace than Zucker. Unfortunately, this means he's likely to spend the rest of the season on the 3rd line and closing out the last 30 seconds of unsuccessful power plays.
Jonas Brodin - A-
He could be the best backwards skating player in the league. His insane mobility has allowed him to have the best possession numbers on the team while also producing the second fewest individual shots/60. Brodin could use a wrong-handed stick and still put up positive possession numbers.
Mikael Granlund - C
He was expected to step up as the number one center and be a major offensive contributor this year between Parise and Pominville. It seems as if his diminutive stature and average speed have combined to make playing center an awfully tall task for Granny. Perhaps Coyle moving to center long term could clear a path for Granlund to play the less physical wing position.
Matt Cooke - C-
He's done. His early season hip injury has removed the speed element of his game which allowed him to be a force on the forecheck. It's going to take some ferocious penalty killing to make up for his disappointing start to the season.
Darklaus Kuempstrom - F
The two-headed monster has been absolutely terrifying in net for the Wild all year. The best case scenario for this season was Kuemper stepping up into a starting role, playing 60-65 games as an above average starter with Niklas Backstrom providing competent backup play. The worst case scenario for this season....... was this season.
Jonas Brodin: B
Brodin currently leads the team in +/- at +6 while averaging over 24 minutes of ice time per game. Despite the leaky goaltending issues that have plagued this team all year, Brodin has been solid as ever in his own end. I give Brodin a grade of B because offensively he hasn’t been providing much of anything with only four points on the season (1g-3a) even though he has been given a consistent role on the second power play unit. The flip side is that Brodin has been one of the few bright spots in a very disappointing Wild season and hopefully he can continue his stellar defensive play and add a little more offense in the second half of the season.
Marco Scandella: A
Scandella has taken huge strides with his game this season and he is playing with so much confidence and consistency this season even with the rest of the team falling apart. Scandella has already tripled his career-high in goals with 9 on the season including four game-winning goals, his 15 points already on the season are just two points shy of his career-high in points (17), and he has done all this with an increasing role on the blue line. Scandella is averaging 22:17 of TOI/G compared to 18:48 TOI/G last season and hopefully his role will only continue to increase in the second half of the season because he has been our best defensemen.
Nino Niederreiter: B
While some people might look at Nino’s -14 and think there is no way he can be having a good season, I think Nino has done a really good job this season with far less offensive opportunities than what he has earned. Niederreiter currently is tied for second on the team with 14 goals already matching last season’s total, his shooting-percentage of 16.7 is tied for the team lead, and Nino has done this while averaging under 15 mins of TIO/G playing on the third line and seeing the majority of his power play time on the second unit. While Jason Zucker has been the best of the young forwards this season without a doubt, Zucker has gotten to play in the top-6 regularly with more skilled players and more offensive-zone starts. Defensively he could be better and consistency needs to improve, but in a forgettable season he has taken steps forward while most have taken steps back.
Charlie Coyle: C
Often referred to as Mike Yeo’s golden child, Charlie Coyle just simply hasn’t been good enough. Coyle’s four goals through 41 games of the season speaks for itself and this guy has been given ample opportunities to move up into a top-6 role and given a spot on the first power play unit. While some of Coyle’s struggles in my mind can be attributed to the constant shuffle between whether he is a wing or a center, we have to see more from him in the second half. To be fair Coyle has looked better and started to produce more as of late but this team needs his physical presence and offensive abilities to show up in games on a way more regular basis to justify that contract extension.
Erik Haula: D+
Erik Haula earned a role on a very good Wild team last season by being great defensively, using his elite speed to shadow the opposing teams top players and create offensive chances, and bringing a consistent game night in and night out. This season Haula has struggled mightily and has been stuck in a fourth-line role for most of the season. Mike Yeo openly criticized his conditioning to the media and choose to keep him as a healthy scratch during a time when the Wild were in desperate need of a center. Haula was a huge spark for this team last season with his play and if he can find his game in the second half of the season he might be able to do the same thing this year.
Niklas Backstrom: F
Goaltending has been the death of this team and as bad as Darcy Kuemper has been so far, Backstrom has been worse with a goals-against average of 2.83 and .892 save-percentage. Backstrom was expected to be a reliable veteran that could help shoulder the load for a young goaltender in Kuemper who was being pressed into a role he really wasn’t ready for. Instead Backstrom has been below-average at best and completely unable to give this team any sort of confidence in the goaltending behind them. With another year left on his contract that includes a full no movement clause and trading him away being nearly impossible, Backstrom has the Wild seriously handcuffed from solving their goaltending this season.
1. Jason Zucker: Zucker has played consistently well all season, even as the rest of the team has declined. Zucker clearly wants to be in the NHL and is proving it this season. He leads the team with 15 goals and although it can't all be shown with stats, he's demonstrated quality play all season long.
2. Zach Parise: This guy has had an incredibly tough year, but somehow he's still managed to show up every game and play with heart. Parise is second on the team in goals scored with 14, a +6, and second in points. The guy also clearly is committed to this team and trying to make it better.
3. Marco Scandella: It's hard to be a good defenceman when your team is constantly getting scored on, but I think Scandella has really matured this season and has shown that he's ready to be one of the Wild's top defencemen.
1. Erik Haula: Last season, Haula was a very noticeable part of this Minnesota Wild team. This year, I've found myself wondering if Haula is even still a part of the team. He's been so quiet this season and really hasn't done very much at all. Call it a sophomore slump or whatever you want, but Haula has been less than impressive this season.
2. Mikko Koivu: I hate to rip on Mikko, because he's always going to be my favorite, but he definitely hasn't performed up to par this season. Koivu is the captain of this team and when things start going poorly, he needs to be the one to step up and put in the most effort. He has yet to do anything of the sort this season.
3. Darcy Kuemper/Niklas Backstrom: The Minnesota Wild always have goaltender issues, so this isn't a big surprise. But Kuemper started out the season so well and Backstrom looked like he might have another couple of good years left in him, so I'm a bit disappointed with these two. I don't want to place all the blame on them because they have plenty of issues in front of the net, but goaltending makes or breaks teams and these two have fallen off the wagon lately.
Coyle has definitely improved this season. In the simplest terms, he’s producing more points per 60 than he was last season (by about .3 pts/60) and his CF% has improved from roughly 48 to 53. Are these huge jumps? Not at all, and they may be less than what fans have hoped to see or expected to see. What’s exciting about Coyle is a number of facets. Firstly, he’s working well with Nino Niederreiter (59% CF% when together, each are sub-50 when apart), as well as moving to Center, a position with more demands than the wing. Coyle is coming into his own; he may never be the physical presence we wish he would, but he is starting to be a productive player, and has been one of few bright spots this season.
Folin came in last year as a free agent, and only played in one game. This year, he has shown himself worthy of a starting role in the NHL. Not only has he been the 2nd-most productive defenseman at .75 pts/60, he has been a positive possession player, if only barely. Folin’s intelligent play, tenaciousness, and heavy shot bode very well for the young defenseman.
The Mayor has been wonderful, having perhaps his best season yet in a Wild sweater. He is the 5v5 points and shots leader, and 2nd-fastest-producing forward (falling only to Jason Zucker and his 17% Sh% in that category). Pominville is one of the Wild’s best possession-drivers, and he and Parise work extremely well together, with each of them playing better together than apart. Though some have expressed a distate for Pommer’s play as of late, they are mistaken, as he has been possibly the Wild’s best player this season.
Granny has struggled this season. His shots/60; pts/60; and A/60 are all down drastically. The ONLY way in which he has improved is his sh%, which is 11.43%, and because of this his G/60 is improved. His possession game is improved, but the two people has played the most time with are Jason Pominville and Zach Parise; the two best possession players on the Wild. Granlund has lost the edge that made him dangerous last year, and that’s a problem. He has seemed scared and gun-shy, much like after his concussion. There’s certainly still time for him to turn this around after he comes back from his wrist injury, but he will need to stop playing afraid and start playing with confidence and swagger.
Now, this might not be fair, as Cooke was out for the first part of the season (you know, when the Wild were playing well…) but Cooke has not been good. Though his 2.00 pts/60 is 5th on the Wild, his 17.65 Sh% is well above his average; he’s been very lucky on his 17 shots this season. You read that right; in 180 minutes, Cooke has only shot 17 times; in fact, the only player shooting less frequently than Cooke is Mikael Granlund. Add in the fact that Cooke’s already sub-par possession stats have gotten worse, and you have the recipe for someone who is, or should be, trade bait.
This is probably going to be a cliché pick, but there’s reason. It’s hard to overstate how different this season is from last. Kuemper has been pulled multiple times, at home, because he’s let in so many goals on so few shots. There’s nothing nuanced here, there’s no subtlety in the stats… Kuemper has been bad. Is there still reason to hope? Of course; Kuemper has succeeded at every level he’s played at, and he absolutely could still succeed at the NHL, but he needs to figure it out. He’s out with a lower-body injury right now, and that could be good, as it may allow the Wild to get him to Iowa for a conditioning stint to get his confidence back. Long story short: Kuemper needs to play better.
Jason Pominville may have just nine goals to his credit at the season’s red line, however, his 32 points have him on pace for 18 goals and 64 points, the latter of which would eclipse his total point production last season. Zach Parise aside, Pominville may actually be the team’s most offensively consistent player this year with five goals and 19 points in his last 20 games.
Jason Zucker leads the team with 15 goals and a heart and a compete level that’s almost on par with Parise. He’s having a career year and could potentially hit the 30-goal mark if he doesn’t let the team’s current slide get to him.
Zach Parise was scoring at almost a point-per-game pace prior to the past few weeks in which the declining health and eventual passing of his father caused his game to slide along with that of the rest of the team. That said, it’s absolutely understandable. Depending on how soon or even if he bounces back, there’s still a chance he could hit the 60-70-point mark before season’s end.
Thomas Vanek was signed with the idea in mind that he was the missing goal scorer Minnesota needed to make it into the upper echelon of the NHL. That didn’t pan out. Even though he is third on the team with seven goals and 25 points, few goals, a negative-10 rating and sloppy, even lazy play through 41 games just isn’t worth what he is being paid.
Darcy Kuemper (yeesh, where to begin?) was expected to take the reins and roll in the crease. He certainly did through the first few games of the season, but quickly came back to Earth, joining backup Niklas Backstrom in producing the league’s worst 5-on-5 save percentage. At 24, Kuemper is young and is still likely the club’s goaltender of the future, but this team needs help stat!
Ryan Suter is also having a surprisingly quite awful season. Though he does lead all Wild blue liners with a goal and 22 points in 39 games, he hasn’t scored a goal since opening night and the heavy work load seems to be adversely affecting him with a negative-5 rating on the season. He’s got a lot of work to do to get back into Norris consideration where he historically has belonged.
Marco Scandella - It's tough not liking what he's been doing and what he means in the line-up. He eats minutes and performs well defensively and offensively. If Suter is the rock in the first pairing, then Scandella is the rock in the second pairing, and that role fits him perfectly.
I give him an A-
Christian Folin - He's looked good; he's looked bad, but I will take him as a third pairing guy over any of the others. Give him a decent partner and I bet you'll watch him thrive.
I give him a B- for being a'ight in his rookie year.
Charlie Coyle - Frankly, he has been given so much opportunity and yet, isn't producing. His 0.8 CF Rel% isn't good for a guy that was expected to make a jump. He was showing signs that things were starting to click, but he doesn't get to the tough areas of the ice, doesn't use his size to his advantage, and doesn't use his speed to his advantage. His four goals and 14 assist just don't jump off the page to me for a player that was supposed to be a future cornerstone of this franchise.
I give him a C (No, not the captaincy)
Ryan Suter - Suter is a point of contention for me. He started off great, but caught the mumps and has struggled ever since. I see the very good plays he makes, but he's making more and more poor decisions and I feel like he's a blackhole on the power play - the puck goes in and nothing comes out, not even light. But I would absolutely rather have Suter on this team than not have him. He is a beacon of consistency throughout his career. He's just not this year. I think he plays too many minutes, but the third pairing is forcing him to play more.
I give him a C- ( He's not performed the way we've come to expect him to perform)
Stu Bickel - Fuck him. Seriously, fuck him.
He gets a F- (I'm sure he's a good guy personally, but I can't fathom how in the hell he got to the NHL.)
Coming into this season with a ton of doubts surrounding him, he's blown away all expectations. He leads the team in 5v5 P/60. He shoots constantly and he's developed a habit of scoring big time goals when the rest of the team seems to be stuttering. He's energised this Wild lineup this season and, as much as I've been really happy with Parise, Niederreiter and Pominville this year, Zucker is the only forward who makes my top-3.
After coming into the NHL at 19 looking like "Kidstrom", Brodin followed it up with a season where he was more like "Kidlicky". This year he's reverted back to the former and has just been so solid defensively. His smooth skating and amazing poise has returned and he looks way more comfortable out there. He has greatly outplayed his usual defensive partner, Ryan Suter.
Jared Spurgeon was another candidate for this spot, but I'm gonna give it to Scandella. Once again he is getting zone starts as tough as any d-man in the league and thriving. He's solid defensively, he skates like wind through the neutral zone and he just makes things happen whenever he's on the ice. He's scored several important goals this season within his total of 9.
One half of the worst goalie tandem in the league. He had a chance to establish himself as a #1 goalie in this league this year but he blew it. A nightmare season that has seriously disrupted the Wild's bright playoff hopes. I could include Backstrom too, but his failure was expected so I can't say I'm disappointed.
After being hyped up as the guy who was gonna make Mikko Koivu a 3rd line centre this year Haula has been so disappointing. I felt that at the start of the year he wasn't getting much luck or opportunities with good players but his game has really fallen off a cliff since Mike Yeo sent him a message with an untimely healthy scratch. Bitterly disappointing season.
The Wild's worst d-men have been Falk, Bickel, Ballard and Prosser by a long way, but that was expected. Suter, on the other hand, played Norris-level hockey for the first few weeks and then....nothing. He's been totally ineffective for months now. He looks slow, indecisive and somewhat lost on the ice. He hasn't been awful, but by his high standards this is a shockingly disappointing season.
Jason Zucker- Here's a complete list of people who have scored goals more frequently at 5v5 than Zucker: Rick Nash, and Mike Hoffman. So, yeah, being just ahead of Vladimir Tarasenko and Tyler Seguin is pretty good.
Jared Spurgeon- Ryan Suter's always going to get the name recognition, as the 2010 1st-rounder Jonas Brodin's always going to be the Golden Boy (which is deserved), and Marco Scandella is going to get attention for his improvement. Meanwhile, Jared Spurgeon is once again flying under the radar. He's leading the Wild's defensemen in scoring while being 12th in the NHL at shots/60, sandwiched between Alex Pietrangelo and Erik Karlsson. He's also been break-even in terms of GoalsFor%, which on this team is a minor miracle.
Devan Dubnyk- He hasn't played a game, but he's not Niklas Backstrom or Darcy Kuemper. I gave a lot of weight to that when deciding my third person.
Honorable Mention: Charlie Coyle- He's been a bit hard-luck this season, but he's noticeably improved his game all-around since last year. It's not his fault Yeo's been playing him more than Niederreiter. Lay off, guys.
Mikael Granlund- No one's had a better opportunity than Granlund this season. He got to play so much time with Parise. So much time with Pominville. What did he have to show for it? Far from the breakout many had hoped to see, Granlund squandered his opportunity, scoring only 4 goals and 15 points in 32 games before being sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Ryan Suter- I'd bet you anything if Suter played 26 minutes per game, he'd avoid this part of the list altogether. His best play of the year was in the beginning, after an off-season of rest and logging 29+ minutes in just 3 of his first 10 games. Since then? He had just 15 points in his last 29 games (after having 8 in his first 11), and played 29 minutes in 19 of his last 30. And it's no coincidence that 10 of those 15 points came in a stretch immediately after returning from illness- and a 10 day break. It's clear the minutes take a toll on him, and he and Yeo need to come to an agreement that in his case, less is more.
Thomas Vanek- If he continues his play since December 9th, we don't have a problem. Hopefully, his newest hot streak/shooting revival (accompanied by good possession numbers) is a result of him acclimating to his teammates, and vice versa. But his first two months were disappointing, if not the total disaster many were making it out to be.