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Erik Haula Finds His Groove

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The line outside Chuck Fletcher's door is getting shorter, but that doesn't mean he's quite done with the exit interview process. Today, Fletcher sits down with Erik Haula, and this is how we imagine this conversation would go.

Minnesota Wild v Calgary Flames

Erik! Come in, sit down. I've been really looking forward to this meeting and I feel like I've been waiting forever to talk to you about your season. You had quite the campaign, young man. I'm not sure what Coach Torchetti whispered in your ear, but it clearly turned you loose. What exactly happened between you and Coach Yeo in all the time before that? It's hard for me to think of a time where I've seen such an incredible transition from a player in such a short amount of time. The first half of your season was unremarkable, even by the standards you set for yourself in the first two years of your career. But you flipped a switch and had one of the most productive second halves, not only on this team, but from a league perspective. And of course, all of this begs the question about what your real identity as a player are what can we expect moving forward?

Let's start by looking at the stat sheet. This past season, you set personal bests for the following categories: goals, assists, penalty minutes, short-handed goals, shots, shooting percentage, games played, time one ice, average time on ice and you blew up your faceoff percentage by finishing at 53.5%. You more than doubled your P/60 from last season and became a key contributor at even strength. You scored more points last season (34) than in the previous two seasons combined (29) and you found yourself promoted to the third line down the stretch, forming one of the most dominant lines in the NHL with Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville. The way your performance crescendoed in the second half, you look like a player who is poised to continue to develop and take the next step.

We've seen this from you before, in the 2013-14 playoffs when you proved yourself to be a factor on both sides of the puck against both Colorado and Chicago. We saw a player unleashed and finding another gear, which led us to increased expectations heading into the 2014-15 season. Those expectations were definitely not lived up to, but we forgive you after taking this nasty hit from Evgeni Malkin at the World Championships which broke your jaw and gave you a concussion:

In that newborn season, you were also tagged in the head by John Moore at the end of October and you never seemed to be at full strength throughout the season, which led you further down the bench and into some healthy scratches. There are a couple of other numbers that could be concerning about potential regression next year, specifically as your season total PDO was a whopping 105.2 which was buoyed by a very nice 14.1 SH%. Those aren't likely maintainable, but we believe that your game can continue to grow if you continue to use the tools that made you successful.

What tools are those? Clearly your blazing speed puts you in good situations on both sides of the puck, and when you are going, your feet are always moving. Playing on a line with a an accomplished forechecker named Nino taught you that good things happen when you get to scoring areas. You became the most notable net crasher on the team down the stretch and it paid off for you on the scoreboard. You also have very good instincts when cycling the puck in the offensive zone and a very good awareness of where your linemates are. Trust those instincts and they will continue to lead you to success.

All in all Erik, this was a fantastic season, even though it didn't really start for until we changed coaches. There was clearly something that prevented Coach Yeo from putting you into the best situations for success, but we're a long way down the road from that. You showed us a spark before and weren't able to back it up. But this time is different. Previously, your performance was in the waning days of a playoff chase and spanning 13 playoff games in 2013-14. Everybody gets some extra adrenaline for a playoff push. This time, you were able to sustain your performance for 2-plus months and it has made it easy to imagine what could be if you continue on this path. Expectations are going to be higher of you, but you will be given more opportunity to succeed than you ever have before. Your performance has caught the attention of many of my peers, who will no doubt be calling me with some offers to take you on. And as attractive as those offers could be, my vision for your future will make it almost impossible for me to let you go.

Expectations For Next Year

While we can't quite say that you have officially arrived, you have earned the opportunity and expectations that go along with being promoted to a scoring line. You will be placed on a line with proven scorers and counted on for offense. This is a contract year for you, so the time has never been better for you to prove your mettle. We will still count on you playing big minutes on the penalty kill, but understand that we recognize your offensive value and will give you the opportunity to produce the best season of your career by playing with quality linemates and more ice time.

Offseason Homework

1. Get to camp in the best shape of your life. We can't wait until the second half of the season to get going. Starting strong will be lucrative for you and the team.

2. Shoot as much as you can. Go see Dr. Shot. Your wicked SH% from last year might not be sustainable, so you are going to have to raise the volume of shots you take.

3. Buy Coach Boudreau some ice cream and make sure that he keeps you paired with Nino - the two of you are magic together.