Thomas Vanek: possibly the most divisive player on the Wild's roster. He had, by almost everyone's accounts, a disappointing season last year. Then he added fuel to the fire by giving a controversial interview to Michael Russo. Next season, however, will be much better.
Some might point to Vanek's low PDO (98) as a reason why he might rebound... unfortunately that PDO is almost completely due to a low on-ice save percentage for Vanek. It is true, his shooting percentage was a little low last season at 10.6%. That will give him at least a few more goals.
The real difference for Vanek will be two differences from last season, neither of which is under his control.
Firstly, Vanek's better season will be due to those around him. Vanek was brought in to be a goal scorer, but despite his reputation we saw a playmaker who's abilities were possibly unmatched on the team. Vanek attempted passes other players didn't even consider, and it was clear from the outset that his new teammates were not used to it.
This resulted in Vanek experiencing the abysmally low on-ice shooting percentage; 8% is awful for 5v5 (the lowest in Vanek's career, which has hovered between 9.5 and 11%). Furthermore, on the power play Vanek's On-ice Sh% was only barely better than 5v5 at 9% (his career numbers for the man advantage hover between 13 and 17%, only twice dipping below that). To make matters worse, Vanek's PP Sh% was only 9.1%. In his entire career he's never shot worse than 13% with the man advantage.
In short: Vanek and teammates had awful shooting luck last season.
Simply adjusting to the low end of average, Vanek's 12 power play assists become 16, and his 5 power play goals become at least 8, likely more. That, alone, brings his point total to 63; good for 2nd on the team behind Parise's 72 points. Adjusting Vanek's 5v5 numbers adds at least another 2 assists and his personal 5v5 sh% will regress upward for another 2 goals. This brings his point total to within 6 of Parise's 72.
Where are the final 6 goals coming from? The answer is simple, but two-pronged.
Firstly, Vanek played most of last season injured, and wasn't skating particularly well. He's never been a speedy winger, but he clearly had lost a step. His health, combined with an offseason working on his skating, means he will be in a better position to score himself, but also to set his line mates up. Secondly, Vanek will spend a consecutive season with the same team he played the entirety of the last season with for the first time since 2012-13. In other words, the other players will be more used to his style than they ever were last season.
The Big Caveat
But wait! you say. Vanek is beginning the season on the third line, with first-timer Tyler Graovac as his center. Yes, Graovac led the Iowa Wild in points last season, but Joe Thornton he is not. How will Vanek score all these points without a playmaker to set him up?
Vanek has given us the answer: in these later stages of his career, he has begun the transition from goalscoring sniper to playmaker. His speed has decreased; his vision and knowledge of the game has not. Furthermore, his puck control is stellar; he can put the puck where he wants it. Graovac and Charlie Coyle both have the physicality to be the net-front presence Vanek once was, and they both possess the skill to put away whatever Vanek serves up.
Thomas Vanek had a disappointing year. That was not, however, completely due to his play, and this season will see the player the Wild thought they were signing last year.