This holiday season sees the Wild in better shape than most Christmas' past. Unlike previous Decembers, the Wild are actually hitting their stride in December, going 6-1-2 on the strength of their defense and goaltending.
But that doesn't mean the Wild can't dream a little. As Christmas draws nearer and the Neptunians build toys for the children of Earth, the Wild are hoping for a repeat of last year, where Santa left the Wild a shiny new Devan Dubnyk. But what could Minnesota get that would get them ready for a deep playoff run? We've got the answers, as Hockey Wilderness writers managed to successfully intercept a letter from Chuck Fletcher as it was headed to the North Pole.
Health is a lot like socks- not a sexy gift that'll excite you, but it's always nice to have. The Wild haven't been bitten too badly by the injury bug this season, but when they have been, it's counted. Zach Parise injured his knee in early November, allowing opponents to load up against Mikko Koivu's line. Marco Sandella missed a stretch of time in November as well, hurting the Wild's defensive depth. Justin Fontaine also missed the month of November, which led to the Wild's secondary scoring drying up.
Given all that, it's no surprise that the Wild went 4-5-2 in November, struggling to score at times while posting bottom-5 numbers in just about every possession metric that month. Minnesota doesn't have as much depth as they did last year, so health is going to be very important.
Special Teams Fixes
The Wild's power play gets a lot of attention when it doesn't work, but to their credit, it's actually 8th in the NHL on the power play, which is converting at 20.2%.
Yeah. I'm as surprised as you.
But that doesn't mean that there aren't issues with it. The second unit has been a work-in-progress, mainly due to the struggles of a few key forwards. Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, and Nino Niederreiter have combined to score only one goal in 205 PP minutes. That's unacceptable production, and picking that up will go a long way to increasing the trio's scoring numbers.
As for the penalty kill, Santa may have come early to fix it. Once 29th in the league, they're now up to 23rd with a 77.9% conversion rate. Even more encouraging is that the Wild have tightened their defense on the penalty kill over the last 10 games, allowing the second-fewest scoring chances in the NHL since November 28th.
Strong Play from Young Defensemen
Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Marco Scandella have been game-changers for the Wild. They've been true two-way impact players. Unfortunately, the Wild haven't seen that caliber of game from any of their other defensemen. Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba have both struggled this year, for different reasons. Brodin has been stellar defensively, as always, but he hasn't been able to jump into the play and spark the offense with any kind of consistency this year. Dumba's inconsistencies are mostly on the other side of the puck, and trying to fix those issues seems to hold him back from using his offensive talents. We saw last year just how good those two can be when they achieve balance to their game, they just need to do it.
Further down the lineup, Christian Folin, Gustav Olofsson, and Mike Reilly have done very little in an effort to displace Nate Prosser from the lineup. The Jordan Leopold trade last year showed that the Wild are interested in upgrading from Prosser, but until those three youngsters can provide more than just raw upside, they'll be in Iowa.
A Potential Franchise Center
While Mikko Koivu is admirably anchoring the top line, the Wild are still looking for a bona-fide Top-6 option to slot in behind Koivu. Mikael Granlund has been getting points lately, but he's more of a complimentary piece on Parise's line, and not a player that can carry his teammates on his back. Being able to fill that hole might get the Wild into the conversation with the elite teams in the league.
But where can the Wild find a player like that? There aren't a lot of good, young centers on the market. Columbus' Ryan Johansen is rumored to be available. The Edmonton Oilers also might part with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl. But other than that? It's hard to find those guys to begin with, and teams are very reluctant to give one up.
Even harder than identifying a target? Actually making a trade for one. To get one of these guys is going to cost a lot. The Wild have to make sure that 1) whoever they get is going to actually be a difference-maker and 2) They don't trade the wrong person (or, more likely, people) for that player.
Trading Niklas Backstrom
This would truly take a Christmas Miracle. If anyone can get this done, it's Santa.