When most think of the Minnesota Wild, they think "boring". And they're right to think so.
Throughout the entire history of the Minnesota Wild, they've lacked the talent to fly up and down the ice with teams like the Penguins, the Lightning, and the Blackhawks. In fact, after 14 years of existence, the Wild have only managed to crack the top-half of the league in goals once. And that was last season. And they were only 14th.
It hasn't mattered who they've had. Marian Gaborik, Zach Parise, Brian Rolston, Thomas Vanek, Dany Heatley's corpse. Defensive, low-event hockey is ingrained in the DNA of the Wild. So why is my bold prediction that the Wild are going to finish Top-5 in goals?
It's a bit surprising to hear, but the Wild are probably closer to this than you think. First of all, the difference between 5th in GF and 14th was just 18 goals, a significant but not impossible improvement. But more encouragingly, they were Top-5 in goals last season, at least at 5v5. Only the Rangers, Stars, Lightning, and Islanders scored more than Minnesota's 165 5v5 goals.
So how did the Wild finish out of the Top-10 in total goals scored? Most Minnesota fans will instinctively know the answer- the power play. There's no way to look at last year's power play that makes it seem anything other than abysmal. They were bottom-5 in terms of total goals, Goals/60, and percentage of power play opportunities converted. Terrible.
But does anyone think that the collection of players the Wild have is really that ill-suited for the power play? Over the last four seasons, both Parise and Vanek are in the Top-20 in power play goals. Wingers Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter are both exciting young scorers, with Niederreiter enjoying power play success last season. Marco Scandella and Mathew Dumba both have huge shots that are made for the man advantage, while Jared Spurgeon has the offensive skills and instincts to run the point. The talent is there.
We'll see starting this week whether the Wild will revamp last season's stagnant power play, but if they find a mix that sparks more production, that'd be an immense help. Just improving their power play conversion rate to the league average of ~19% would've closed the gap between them and a Top-5 scoring team from 18 to 10.
Where can the remaining 10 goals be made up? Bounce-back seasons from Vanek and Jason Pominville would be a good start. If both of them had scored at the same rate last year (at 5v5) as they did from the 2011-12 to 13-14 seasons, that would mean that gap shrinks from 10 to 4.
From there, those 4 goals can come from anywhere. Maybe Zucker plays a full season. Maybe Niederreiter takes the next step. Maybe Dumba is able to excel in Top-4 minutes. Maybe Mikael Granlund's offseason of working on his shot pays off. Maybe Erik Haula bounces back and can provide the speed and shot he displayed two seasons ago.
There are quite a few things that would need to happen for the Wild to elevate themselves into the elite ranks of NHL goal-scoring, but they do have the talent and depth that would enable them to take that step. And if they do that, combining Top-5 offense with their stingy defense will make the Wild stand out as a terror to face, even in the brutal Central Division.