Minnesota Wild practices have been getting awfully busy lately. With a number of players becoming healthy and the in-flux of players General Manager Chuck Fletcher brought in around the trade deadline, the prime real estate that is the starting line-up is hard to crack. Players that have performed well are seeing time in the press box, while others are forcing Mike Yeo to keep them in the line-up. The Wild have enough healthy players to make five competitive NHL caliber lines. There are six players fighting for three spots on the Wild's fourth line: Kyle Brodziak, Erik Haula, Ryan Carter, Matt Cooke, Jordan Schroeder, and Sean Bergenheim.
There is plenty of competition, and this is a good thing to have for the final four games of the regular season. However, when the playoffs come around, Mike Yeo will need to start his best line-up each and every game. Let's look at those six players and see who should and shouldn't be starting in the playoffs.
After arriving on the scene in the Western Conference Quarterfinals when he shadowed speedy Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon and shut him down for the final four games of the series. This season hasn't been nearly as good for him as the playoffs were for him. An Evgeni Malkin shot to the head in the IIHF Worlds after the Wild's playoff run ended may have been a contributing factor in his lack-luster start of the season. He hasn't used his speed to his advantage as much as you'd like to see from him and his speed is what made him a real asset to the Wild's forward group. He is an effective penalty killer and has been a catalyst for the league's best penalty kill. His struggles in the faceoff dots have been very apparent throughout the season as Mikko Koivu has been the only center on the team that is over 50 percent on the draw. Here's his stat line:
As you can see, Haula has struggled this season 5-on-5, but his penalty killing ability and speed are a real asset to the team. Outside of his struggles, he should get consideration for the playoff starting line-up.
Bergenheim is the darling of fancy stat supporters. His ability to drive and keep possession is something that could be used on any team. Add that he was acquired for a third rounder, and the move appeared very shrewd by the general manager. Outside of his first game with the Wild against the Nashville Predators he's just been very underwhelming. And that is something we could have expected as his point totals were nothing that screamed, Future Hall of Famer," with his production. However, what he was supposed to was give the third or fourth lines energy and the ability to be physical with extended offensive zone time. He has nine goals on the season, only one of those are since he joined this Wild club. He doesn't have any assists and his shot rates of dwindled with Minnesota. He has been relegated as a healthy scratch, which he was in Florida just before asking for a trade.
For the season, he's been a solid possession player. As for his time with the Wild his numbers dip. Since the transaction was completed, his score adjusted Corsi Rel is a 0.40 percent with his on-ice Corsi For percentage dipping to 50.89. Clearly he hasn't been the same player since arriving in St. Paul.
The White Bear Lake, Minnesota native was acquired via the waiver wire early in the season from the New Jersey Devils. Carter provided some early short-handed goals as his speed on the penalty kill was useful in the early months of the season. He also provided another option for Yeo in the faceoff department. A shoulder injury suffered on February 9th in a 5-3 victory against the Vancouver Canucks would have him sidelined for 23 games. His injury would be a precursor for the Bergenheim trade. Carter was brought in with low expectations but has been a pleasant addition the group of forwards of the Wild.
The Wild have done enough in trades and roster moves to overcome the loss of Cater in the line-up. With a healthy Ryan Carter, he provides a good depth option at center.
Kyle Brodziak has been a lightning rod for criticism since he's been in Minnesota. Yes, he tends to miss the net, or screw up scoring chances, but he provides a solution as a bottom-six center and gets a lot of scoring chances as a defensive forward. He has been a leading cast member of the penalty kill that is ranked number one in the league (in case I haven't made that clear enough that the Wild's PK is the best in the league). He consistently plays his role well.
Kyle Brodziak is such a key person on the Wild's penalty kill that that alone should be a good enough reason to have him in the playoff line-up.
Jordan Schroeder isn't a fourth liner, per se. In fact, he fit the third line quite well with Charlie Coyle as his center. So why did I include him in this group? Well, currently Thomas Vanek and Justin Fontaine are on that line and they are clicking right now.Jordan Schroeder only lost his spot in the line-up because he isn't a fourth line type player and the fact that Sean Bergenheim and mostly Chris Stewart were acquired around the trade deadline. Picked up in the offseason as an un-tendered restricted free agent from the Canucks, Schroeder was considered a relative depth move. He started the season providing scoring for the Iowa Wild, but was key in helping to add scoring depth to the wild line-up. He adds a speed element that was missing after Jason Zucker went down with a broken clavicle. All Schroeder has done since he was called up is produce and his possession numbers are fantastic.\
Schroeder has done everything (offensively) that you could ask for. He plays a high-energy game, with lots of speed, and he does possess a nice scoring touch. Right now, the key is getting him on the ice.
Matt Cooke played two periods in a 4-2 win at Vancouver on February 1st. Since then, he's undergone sports hernia surgery and hasn't played in a game. He was rumored to miss the rest of the season, this coming on the heels of just getting back into the line-up after missing a number of games early in the season because of hip issues. I wrote about how Matt Cooke's absence from the line-up wasn't going to derail the Wild's attempt to get back into the playoff picture. I mainly wrote it because of the people that were saying that his veteran leadership would help spark a turnaround in the team as they tried to get out of their funk (which we know was all about the goaltending position in the first place). Frankly, the Wild have not missed Matt Cooke in the locker room or on the ice. Cooke wasn't stopping other players from taking liberties on smaller players (neither does any enforcer for that matter) and he was having a very subpar season. he couldn't drive possession, wasn't good on the PK, and he wasn't producing any points and offering any scoring depth to the team when he went down.
Sure, Cooke has won a Stanley Cup, and yes, he is a veteran, but his intangibles this season just do not out-weigh his bad performance on the ice. His line was constantly getting buried in the defensive zone and the fact that he's had so many suspensions has taken away the one part of the game he is good at - playing physical.
Here is how they rank together:
AS you can see the best forwards are Jordan Schroeder, Sean Bergenheim (however this is going off his season total), and Erik Haula. I would plug in Kyle Brodziak over Bergenheim, move Haula to the wing and watch this line work. A line like this could provide a real chance to score, can be effective defensively, they can penalty kill, and it has a lot of speed. The coach has a number of decisions to make on his line-up come playoffs, but what we can all agree on is that this is a great problem to have.