The Minnesota Wild announced Tuesday that veteran forward Daniel Winnik would be attending training camp on a professional-try-out contract. Now, I don’t know the goals of either the Wild or Winnik with this PTO, but it surprised me. The Wild already have a quite full forward core under contract and also Marcus Foligno still waiting on a new deal. If you count in Joel Eriksson Ek, the Wild already have their 12 forwards and that’s not including Landon Ferraro or Cal O’Reilly being as a potential 13th forward option. Also, 2016 1st rounder Luke Kunin is still vying for a roster spot, and could crack the NHL club at some point during this year. I’d also be very surprised if Winnik was looking to play as a 13th forward on a team, so is there anything to this other than bringing in a veteran forward to camp so that maybe they can take a job away from someone or at least find a spot elsewhere?
Despite having already some good forwards under contract there are also question marks surrounding Wild forwards as well. Tyler Ennis suffered from injuries over the last two seasons, including a fairly severe concussion which led to him missing 3 months of practice. Zach Parise also suffered from injuries over the last two seasons and if he misses significant time due to one this year, it would be a good idea to have a reliable fill-in player. Matt Cullen is 40 years old and has long debated between retirement and a return for this season, so it’s possible he could drop off during this season. Marcus Foligno is still not signed, and even though it doesn’t look like there are any issues behind closed doors, it could even lead to him not sticking around. Both Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin are still young and Bruce Boudreau with his assistants could decide to prefer a veteran over them. So it’s not out of the question to see a potential spot for Winnik on the roster, but that begs the question of: “is he good enough to warrant a spot?”
Purely looking at points, he had 25 points last year, including 12 goals, with Washington and 19 points between Washington and Toronto in 15-16. He also has history with Bruce Boudreau from Anaheim in 2012-13 and 2013-14. If you look at his HERO chart, for example, he basically fits the archetype of a 3rd line winger, with a slight lack of offense. However, he possesses great shot suppression numbers. A comparison to Marcus Foligno is also fair as both played bottom-6 minutes on their respective teams, scored similar goals, but Winnik ranks better in all categories of the HERO chart. Though it is worth noting that while Winnik played on the President’s trophy winning Washington Capitals, Foligno spent the year on the bottom-6 of the Buffalo Sabres who allowed the 10th most goals in the league.
Winnik is also known for his penalty killing around the league and that’s an aspect where he could help the Wild. Minnesota had the 8th ranked Penalty Kill last season. However, the loss Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, and defenseman Marco Scandella will likely put a dent into that part of the Wild’s special teams if they don’t address it. So it wouldn’t hurt to add some new penalty kill specialists. Matt Cullen is expected to handle a decent amount of penalty killing to fill in for Haula’s absence. Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu both did penalty-killing last year and will see decent amount of time shorthanded this year. But outside of the centers, a depth player like Winnik could manage penalty killing without demanding a lot from top-6 wingers like Mikael Granlund or Nino Niederreiter to handle the short-handed minutes.
So there could be an opening on the depth chart and a need for Daniel Winnik, but is there enough cap space? The Wild are projected at around $2.14 million in cap space for the next season with Marcus Foligno yet to be signed. However, that also currently counts Landon Ferraro and Luke Kunin on the big squad. Should their contracts head to Iowa that would give the Wild around $3.76 million of cap space. I expect Marcus Foligno is likely going to get somewhere between $2.5M and $2.8M. Given that range, let’s say he gets $2.75 million. That would leave just over $1 million of space for Winnik. Winnik could be willing to take a cheap deal as he is still a Free Agent at this point so no one is expecting a huge deal. However, his recent deals have been $1.8 million, $1.3 M, and $2.25M so it’s unlikely that he is looking for a below $1 million deal. All this means is that it’d be a tough fit without some relief via trade, LTIR, or only having 6 defensemen on the roster instead of 7. Without relief there would be barely any room to work with for injuries.
It’s only a pro-tryout, but as has been done in the past, it’s possible the Wild could give him a lengthy look in training camp should the young forwards disappoint or a major injury happens. If nothing else, he gives the Wild another veteran in camp that the team can use for split squad games.