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Tending The Fields: Checking in on the Iowa Wild

The season-long cellar dwellers have experienced a bit of a resurgence and have climbed out of the bottom spot in the Central Division of the AHL.

The Iowa Wild are a team on the upswing after carrying over some success from the final days of 2015 into the new year.  The team began the season with 27 losses in their first 33 games, featuring a 20 game losing streak.  However, back-to-back wins over the Chicago Wolves and Rockford Ice Hogs on December 27-28th have set a different pace for the team that has won 9 times in 16 games to bring their overall record to 14-28-3, good for 34 points.  They have managed to climb out of the cellar to overtake the Manitoba Moose, who have 31 points.

The problems for Iowa have been many, but the particular problem was keeping the puck out of their own net.  Mike Reilly still infamously leads the league in plus-minus at a minus-25 in his rookie year.  Goal keeper Jeremy Smith, who was on loan from the Boston Bruins organization, posted a 5-14-3 record with a 2.94 GAA and .912 SV% over 23 games.  Smith has recently been reassigned to the Providence Bruins as Stephen Michalek has made the jump from the Quad City Mallards of the ECHL and posted a 2-0-0 record since his recall, including a highly publicized goalie fight in his AHL debut.

The return to playing a stretch of better than .500 hockey has been credited to a number of factors, most specifically some players returning from injury and the natural progression of several first-year AHL players.  Big injuries to Zach Dalpe, Grayson Downing and Tyler Graovac had dramatic effects on the lineup in the season's early goings.  Though Gravoac broke camp with the big club, his subsequent return to action in the AHL has helped fuel the turnaround after he led the team in scoring the previous season.  Zach Dalpe has yet to touch the ice and Grayson Downing missed 17 games at the beginning of the season, so Iowa was forced to navigate a large portion of the season without these impact players.  And the echoes of those injuries have been felt in the NHL as all of those players are centers, the position that has impacted the big club throughout the season and is the NHL club's most glaring weakness.

However, standout performances have driven the team forward.  Though Downing missed the first chunk of the season, he wasted no time racking up enough points to grab the team lead.  He currently has 28 points in 31 games in his rookie campaign after signing as a college free agent.  Christoph Bertschy has come on strong and netted a hat trick on January 29th against the Charlotte Checkers.  Highly anticipated prospect Zack Mitchell is tied for second on the team with Jordan Schroeder at 27 points, though Schroeder has done it in 29 games versus Mitchell's 48.  The blue line has featured standout performances from Mike Reilly, Gustav Olofsson, Tyler Strachan and Christian Folin, who have all spent time in the NHL this season.  Olofsson has bounced back nicely this year after losing last season to injury to become an AHL All-Star.

While the hole from the beginning of the season is deep, the team is moving in the right direction.  Many have declared this a lost season, but the team's recent play bodes well for the future.   There are several potential names that could join the roster in the next year including World Junior Classic final four participants Kirill Kaprizov, Louis Belpedio, Joel Ericksson-Ek and Kaapo Kahkonen.  Other names that could also find themselves in Iowa next year are Alex Tuch, Adam Gilmour, Jordan Greenway and Mario Lucia.  While it is almost certain the Wild organization will not be able to get all of their picks to Iowa next year, this group of players could provide an enormous boost to Iowa and the depth across the entire organization.