With the entire roster returning healthy from IR and each player getting some ice time over the last couple of games, the Wild are an incredibly deep team heading into the playoffs. Today, we’ll take a look at how Mike Yeo will solve this "good problem to have," and deploy a 4th line that has been called out by rival coaches as one of the best in the league. A couple of weeks ago, Joe took a look at the Wild’s forward depth. The return of Jason Zucker has caused a couple more players to shift around the lineup and we will take a closer look at how the 4th line may be deployed in the playoffs.
In order to do this, we must determine on what we believe the first three lines will be:
Jason Zucker – Mikko Koivu – Chris Stewart
Zach Parise – Mikael Granlund – Jason Pominville
Nino Niederreiter – Charlie Coyle – Thomas Vanek
There’s not much room for discussion here, so we will use this as our baseline. Let’s take a look at the rest of the forwards and the ways in which each can be deployed.
Jason Zucker’s return has caused a vacuum, bumping Nino Niederreiter from the first to the third line, and relegating our beloved Fonzy to the 4th line group. Fontaine has been the darling of HW writers throughout the year as his production has far outpaced his deployment, and fancy stats show his ability to drive possession and produce points at a high rate per 60. He has the remarkable ability to fill whatever role is necessary as he has played up and down the lineup and his ability to match his game to his assignment is well documented. Fonzy brings speed, strong positioning and a nose for the net. His ability to match his game to fill his role make him the most flexible player of this group, and his performance this season should make him a must-start in most situations.
While some fans remember Brodziak for being the guy who gets stuffed on breakaways, a lot of fans don't recognize the reason he gets so many of them is that he is always in the right place at the right time. Brodziak executes the system perfectly, which has earned him a ton of respect from the coaches. Paired with his role on the Wild's top-rated penalty kill and his ability to win faceoffs, Brodziak brings a bunch of skills that are vital as a role-player on this team. He isn't the speediest guy, but he is adaptable and can play center or wing. He also isn't afraid to come to the defense of his teammates, which could pay dividends against bigger and stronger teams. He exemplifies the #gritz movement in Minnesota.
Haula may be the player buried the deepest in the dog house. A regression of his performance in his sophomore year has even brought about questions regarding his conditioning. He's had a few good games, but has been mostly disappointing this season. But it's hard to forget how he factored into the Wild's postseason last year, shutting down opponent's elite scorers (but not being able to negate stanchions), and being a danger every time he touched the ice. He has elite speed, and has been a huge part of the PK. Unfortunately, he has underwhelmed this season after setting the bar high with his performance last year. Look for Haula to draw into the lineup at home when he can be effectively deployed against players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrick Kane, and Filip Forsberg.
Carter was a revelation at the beginning of the season, coming in and scoring some goals and helping the 4th line outpace expectations. He is a gritty player who is not afraid to get into the dirty areas and use his size and speed to harass opponents all over the ice. His best deployment would be in the case of adding some physicality to this line. Unfortunately, that is an area the Wild won't likely compete well against a big team like the Blues. It is more likely that speed and skill will be put out to counter St. Louis toughness, but he may be a factor against a team like Chicago, who is not as big and physical.
Schroeder has been somewhat of a revelation in the limited opportunities he has had with the Wild this year. He can score and would contend in a race with speedsters Zucker and Haula. He also drives possession at a higher rate than other guys on this list, and has the ability to keep the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. Schroeder has been a depth scorer, and would be used to drive offense from the 4th line.
This has essentially been a lost season for Matt Cooke due to multiple injuries. He also has not brought a lot of value to the team when he has played, bouncing between the 3rd and 4th lines. When Cooke is on top of his game, he becomes the annoying mosquito buzzing in your ear while you are trying to sleep. He is rugged, chirpy, and everyone's favorite player to hate. He once held an important role on the PK and also has playoff experience, so his value is in his experience and leadership.
Looking at his HERO chart, Bergenheim's numbers jump off the page. But the cold fact is he has struggled since being traded to Minnesota and hasn't really found his role with the team. The Finn is a gritty player that throws his weight around and is strong on the forecheck. He also brings a history of playoff success with more than a half-point per game production. Bergy is a player that tends to find another gear in the post season.
The Speed Line
Fontaine - Haula - Schroeder
Against a physical team like St. Louis, perhaps the best way to counter a heavy lineup is with a group that can out-skate and out-skill the larger and slower opponents. This line might be the fastest line in the postseason, but is not a likely combination as Haula is in the dog house. It might be more likely to see Haula swapped out for Brodziak.
The #Gritz Line
Bergenheim - Brodziak - Carter
If the Wild choose to try to match the physicality of the Blues in the first round, this would be the group to do it. And essentially, Matt Cooke could slot in on either wing and the outcome would be similar. This line is scrappy and Bergenheim is a wildcard that might be able to bring the offense. This line won't probably be best suited to face the Blues, but could be used against Nashville or Chicago.
The #Yeolo Line
Cooke - Brodziak - Fontaine
This line is what we were most likely to see to start out the postseason as Yeo is well-known to stick with his veterans and disappoint arm-chair hockey coaches. Cooke and Brodziak are "Yeo's guys" who buy into the system, and Fonzy simply has been too good to be in the press box. Cooke is now hurting and won't play game 1, but we will see some variation of this line, which lacks a true identity, but is balanced with some #gritz and some speed/skill.
The fact that we are examining which three out of seven players sees the ice tells you how deep this team is. It has the bandwidth to protect the team from injuries as well as deploy the fourth line in very specialized roles. Though we in the blogosphere yearn for those lines to be either really fast or really gritty, it is more likely that Yeo sticks to more balanced combinations such as the #Yeolo line. Either way there are a lot of moving parts, and this should continue to be a storyline throughout the playoffs.