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Injuries and the Wild: a blessing and a curse

St Louis Blues v Minnesota Wild - Game One Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Wild have a major injury concern staring them in the face. Zach Parise’s back is something that has held him out of two games already, and could keep him out of more.

That’s not the only question mark for the Wild. Recently acquired Tyler Ennis has a history of injuries that could keep them out for extended periods of time. Last season, he only played 51 NHL games. The season before, only 23. In 2011-12, he only played 48 games (and had the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season to recover as well).

Mikko Koivu, a longtime workhorse, is getting old and could easily get injured. The last time Koivu missed significant time due to injury was 2013-14, when he played 65 games. In 2011-12 he played 55 games. Now, this could mean he’s exceptionally healthy and can be counted on, or it could mean he’s due for another injury.

One point of concern for Mikko: his ice time. Koivu’s average TOI over the course of his career is 19:32 (shoutout to Hockey Reference for doing that math for me). Over the past 3 seasons, Koivu’s ice time is 19:57, 19:07, and 19:56. If Koivu is going to continue to play almost every game, his play time will need to go down, if only a little. An easy way to do that is decrease his special teams time, especially on the power play, where similar options are available.

In a similar situation is Eric Staal. He hasn’t had huge injury trouble over the past several years, playing every game for Minnesota last year. In 2015-16 he played a total of 83 games (63 for Carolina, 20 for New York), 77, 79, 48, 82, 81, and 70. You have to go back to 2009-10 to find a season in which me missed more than 10 games. And, similar to Koivu, Staal’s ice time has been massive, averaging 20:01 per game. That has decreased in recent years, with New York limiting him to 16:15, while Bruce Boudreau kept him to 18:39 so far.

With the massive caveat that there have only been two games played, Staal has averaged 20:03 in the 2017-18 season. Continuing at that pace is a bad idea; Staal is 33 and hasn’t yet hit the age drop off. Delaying that drop is in the Wild’s best interest.

The last player for whom there may be concern is in a different situation. Devan Dubnyk has played over 65 games both years he’s been a Wild player. In that time, he’s had 3 injuries (according to Fox Sports). He has no serious history, he isn’t terribly old (31 isn’t young, but goalies age oddly). The concern for Dubnyk is: if he’s injured, the Wild are in real trouble. Alex Stalock inspires little confidence, and behind him the Wild’s goalie cabinet is bare. An injury to Dubnyk could end the Wild’s season in short order. This is particularly true when you consider that the Wild have virtually no cap space to play with; signing a free agent or making any kind of trade will be very troublesome for the Wild.

The Good News

There is a bright side however.

Dubnyk’s injury could doom the Wild. For the others, well, there may be some hope.

Waiting in the wings (and/or the AHL) are some truly exciting players for whom injuries could mean a chance to make a mark in the NHL.

Luke Kunin is almost unquestionably the most exciting non-NHL-playing prospect the Wild have (particularly if you count Kirill Kaprizov out, as all indications show he’ll stay in Russia for the foreseeable future). He came in at #4 in our top-25-under-25 rankings. He can play on the wing or at center, and he can play all over the ice.

While Kunin starts the season in the AHL, significant injuries to Parise (read: LTIR) could mean a callup for the youngster. This is doubly true if another injury (say, ennis) is added on. Similarly, there’s talk of Chris Stewart being traded away; this clears still more room for Kunin to make a show of his first professional season.

Joel Eriksson-Ek starts the season in the NHL, but will likely miss out on top line minutes and special teams opportunities. But, with an injury, he could get those chances and make big on them.

After 7 points in 15 games last season, Ek lit up Sweden, but in the top league and with the national team, including 6 points in 7 games in the playoffs. Ek isn’t a sure thing, but he’s sure showing signs of promise. A chance in the NHL could be exactly what he needs to earn his stripes. While he could fail, with the right players on his line, he’ll succeed with flying colors. At this point, Ek has fewer 5v5 minutes than every Minnesota forward apart from Chris Stewart and Mikael Granlund (who has only played one game).

Nino Niederreiter isn’t young, but this could be the year he gets his chances. Through two games, Nino has more power play time than any other Wild forward, and more 5v5 time than everyone except Marcus Foligno, Eric Staal, and Charlie Coyle. This could be a function of Parise being out injured, or it could be a function of Nino finally having the belief of his coaches.

If Nino truly doesn’t need to prove himself, then he can relax into the offensively dynamic (while defensively responsible) role he was born to play. On the other hand, in the second game of the season, Nino played fewer minutes than Foligno, Zucker, Coyle, Staal, and Koivu in all situations.

When FC Barcelona was banned from bringing in new players due to violating roster rules, they were forced to improvise. As a result, they discovered that Sergi Roberto (a defender in the youth team) was a serviceable-to-middling defensive midfielder.

Hockey is a different sport, but the could conceivably benefit from injuries the same way.

That said, it might be preferable if the Wild didn’t have to find out.