Andrew Berkshire of Habs' Eyes on the Prize recently wrote an article about top-line production in the modern NHL, and whether or not the Canadiens truly have it. I'm going to steal his introduction, because I'm not sure how to improve upon it:
The 1980's were the worst thing to ever happen to the perception of hockey fans. For a large majority of media, hockey in the 80's was what they grew up on, and because hockey for them is intrinsically tied to that time, expectations for point production for top players is completely out of whack with reality.
A huge percentage of fans and media still believe that first liners need to be point per game players, even though there are only a handful of players of that calibre in the league, and 90 slots for first line players. So what made a first liner, or a second liner even, in 2014-15? And how do the Minnesota Wild stack up? Going by point production, you'd be surprised.
These point totals are based on NHL.com's website- sort by position, and it displays 30 players.
First Line Centers
All Situations: 55-86 points
Even Strength: 39-60 points
Because of how we have established our point totals, there are precisely 30 "first-line" centers in the NHL. They aren't, however, generating points like some people think they are or should be. The Wild have no centers that meet the criteria, neither at even strength nor all situations. Believe it or not, Koivu and Granlund produced an almost identical 28 and 29 points respectively at even strength.
In other words, though Koivu does a lot of things well, point production isn't one of them. That's not surprising, and a point-producing center has been a "need" for the Wild for some time now.
First Line Left Wingers:
All Situations: 42-87 points
Even Strength: 33-59 points
Minnesota has two left wingers who fall into the "first line" category. Zach Parise, to no one's surprise, falls with 62 all-situations points, good for 12th in the league. Thomas Vanek produced 52 points, putting him 22nd on the list. Contrary to the narratives spun throughout the season, Vanek was indeed the scorer we wanted him to be; his shot totals were down, however, and that needs to be rectified.
First Line Right Wingers
All Situations: 42-81 points
Even Strength: 29-55 points
The Wild have just one first-line right winger in the Mayor Jason Pominville. Pommer put up 54 all-situations points, placing him 16th in the league. Without his injuries, it's possible Jason Zucker would have made the top 30, though the same can be said Nino Niederreiter; had he had the same opportunities as the top players, he could have produced more. Chris Stewart was close to making the top 30, and Justin Fontaine did so if you look only at even strength points (though he fell very short in all situations).
Minnesota has a number of quality right wingers; it's maybe the strongest forward position on their roster. This means that the right wingers are trade bait, especially if they are not ready to contribute at the NHL level; Iowa Wild, I'm looking at you.
Second Line Centers
All Situations: 39-55 points
Even Strength: 31-39 points
The only center that Minnesota has that qualifies here is Mikko Koivu; Granlund doesn't have enough points at 5v5 or at evens to even be considered a second line center. Koivu does not qualify at 5v5, however; as mentioned above he only has 28 ES points this season.
We've known our centers were a weakness for a while, and this just confirms it; the Wild barely have a second line center in terms of production... an upgrade is needed.
Second Line Left Wingers
All Situations: 26-42 points
Even Strength: 22-32 points
Left Wing isn't very deep either, unfortunately. Jason Zucker is the only left wing who qualifies here, and just barely, at the minimum number of points needed in both categories (granted on an injury-shortened season). Charlie Coyle has enough even-strength points, but he played most of the season at center, which rules him out. This is another potential position of need.
Second Line Right Wingers
All Situations: 26-41 points
Even Strength: 19-29 points
As we've established, Right Wing is where Minnesota has some depth, with Chris Stewart, Nino Niederreiter, and Justin Fontaine all qualifying here in all situations and at even strength. Albeit, Stewart is an unrestricted free agent after this season, but even with his loss that's Nino, Fontaine, Zucker, and Pommer all producing like top-2 wingers. On another note, we should all pray that neither Fontaine nor Nino get traded (looking at you, GMCF)
And the Rest...
I could go on through third and fourth liners, but the pattern is clear; the Wild have no really productive centers, a few good left wing players, and the right wing is deep. This isn't necessarily news, but what might be surprising is just how good our RW's were.
Ultimately, the Wild don't have a ton of room below the cap to spend on a big free agent splash. They'll have to hope their younger players develop, and they can find a trade for some center depth. If they don't, expect another year of mediocre scoring from our centermen.