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Projecting the Wild’s Five-Year Outlook

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Let’s take a look at what the roster might look like on opening night of the 2023-24 season.

Nashville Predators v Minnesota Wild

With a few weeks until training camp and just over a month until the Minnesota Wild drop the puck on the regular season, fans are spending their time mulling over the future of the franchise. And there’s a lot on which to speculate. What can and will newly-hired General Manager Bill Guerin do in order to tweak the roster heading into the regular season? What young guys will make the team out of training camp? And further out, what about Kirill Kaprizov? Or the Seattle Expansion Draft?

Yes, Wild fans have a lot to consider ponder worry about obsess over regarding the future of the team.

But why stop there, when we can push Wild fans’ obsession just a little bit further? Let’s play a little game that steals from the classic job interview question. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The answer? Let’s project what the roster might look like for the 2023-24 Minnesota Wild.

(Stick tap to Defending Big D, who came up with the idea of this game. Check out their five-year outlook of the Dallas Stars).

The Rules

  • This is the outlook of the core of the Wild, as of today. Injuries, trades, free agency acquisitions, future high draft picks who could immediately contribute, and contract buyouts are impossible to predict, so they won’t be considered.
  • It will be assumed that the Wild will reach agreement with their pending RFAs, including Kevin Fiala (2019), Ryan Donato (2021), Joel Erikkson Ek (2021), and Ryan Hartman (2021).
  • UFAs will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis (see below).
  • One player will selected by Seattle in the 2021 expansion draft. While it’s possible Guerin could swing a deal (hopefully a better one than Fletcher) that would protect additional players, that’s another prediction for another day.

The Expectations

  • Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Mats Zuccarello will still be under contract. They could potentially be traded (Zuccarello especially, with his 10-team no-trade clause that triggers in 2022), but for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll keep them on the roster.
  • Jared Spurgeon will be resigned to a multi-year deal that will keep him through at least 2023.
  • Mikko Koivu and Eric Staal will either retire or leave as UFAs at the end of their deals. Devan Dubnyk will leave, as will Alex Stalock and Victor Rask.
  • Where things get tricky are with the UFAs whose contracts will expire heading into 2021, a group which includes Jonas Brodin, Nick Seeler, Greg Pateryn, Marcus Foligno and Brad Hunt. If they’re not re-signed and protected by the Wild prior to the expansion draft, they can either be selected by Seattle, signed by Seattle as a free agent during their exclusive negotiation window in mid-June, or be lost to standard free agency on July 1. I’d say Brodin and Seeler are possibilities for extensions, while Pateryn, Foligno and Hunt will be gone after 2021.
  • Finally, Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker, should they survive the expansion process, will be UFAs heading into the 2023-24 season. Considering the lengths the Wild went to protect them from Vegas, you have to believe that Minnesota will at least protect one, if not both of them, this time around. Will they re-sign both in 2023? Hard to say. For this exercise, I’m projecting the Wild retain Dumba, but lose Zucker to either free agency or the expansion draft.

The Big Question

  • Kirill Kaprizov was selected by Chuck Fletcher, shook hands with Paul Fenton, and now will have to decide in a year’s time whether or not he’ll leave Russia to join the Wild and new GM Bill Guerin. What Kaprizov will decide in a year’s time is known only to him. Will Kaprizov come to Minnesota? Will he stay in the KHL? Will the Wild trade his rights in order to get something for the talented Russian? This is the big question that may dictate the direction of the Wild roster in the future. Let’s assume the best, and say Kaprizov is swayed by the new general manager, and decides to come stateside next season.

The 2023-24 Minnesota Wild

Forwards

1st Line Matthew Boldy Luke Kunin Kirill Kaprizov
2nd Line Ryan Donato Joel Erikkson Ek Kevin Fiala
3rd Line Zach Parise Jordan Greenway Mats Zuccarello
4th Line - scoring Vladislav Firstov Alexander Khovanov Ivan Lodnia
4th Line - checking Will Bitten Nico Sturm/Jack McBain Ryan Hartman

Other Possibilities: Dmitri Solokov, Will Bitten, Mason Shaw, Sam Hentges.

Outlook: The Wild have some potential for excitement in 2023, but a lot has to go right in order to make that happen. First, and this is a huge part of this exercise: Kirill Kaprizov has to come to Minnesota. If not, you’ll be asking a lot of middle-six guys to play at an elite level. The Wild also need Donato, Fiala, and especially Erikkson Ek to play near their ceilings. I can’t imagine Parise and Zuccarello playing at a high enough level to warrant top-six minutes, though their contracts will still be paying them as if they are. The fourth line could be a jumble of prospects, energy guys, or big-bodied grinders. The biggest question for me (outside of Kaprizov) is this: who plays center? Erikkson Ek and Khovanov assuredly. But Kunin? Greenway? Donato?

Defensemen

1st Pairing Jared Spurgeon Matt Dumba
2nd Pairing Jonas Brodin/Nick Seeler Ryan Suter
3rd Pairing Filip Johansson Simon Johansson

Other Possibilities: Fedor Gordeev, Brennan Mennel, Marshall Warren.

Outlook: What was once the strongest part of the team will, by 2023, start to develop some serious questions. The first pairing is solid — a nice mix of defense and offense, of skill and strength. If Brodin avoids being traded, selected in the expansion draft or lost to free agency, that means he’s continued to improve into his prime, and the Wild will likely find a way to keep him on the roster. Considering the constant trade rumors surrounding him, that’s a pretty big “if.” As for Suter (and thanks to lightguy for pointing out that I missed him), at 38 years of age, hopefully he still has what it takes to eat a certain amount of second pairing minutes, especially if he’s alongside Nick Seeler or possibly Louie Belpedio. Because, beyond the top four, you don’t find a prospect that is guaranteed to be an impact player. Gordeev and the two Johannsons all show flashes of NHL-level skill, and then have a lapse of effort or decision-making that make you wonder if they’ll ever put it together. Bottom line is that defense will have to be a focus for Guerin in the upcoming drafts.

Goaltenders

Kaapo Kahkonen
Hunter Jones

Other Possibilities: Mat Robson, Filip Lindberg.

Outlook: For all Fenton did wrong, he did restock the goaltending cupboard by drafting Jones and Lindberg and signing Robson to compete with Kahkonen as the goaltender of the future. Kahkonen has the inside track to be the primary netminder in 2023, and while I like Robson and what he could potentially bring to the Minnesota crease, the Wild didn’t move up in the second round if they didn’t like what they saw in Jones. In any case, Minnesota will have some quality options in five years.

The Takeaways:

  • Fenton put a huge stamp on this roster for years to come, with Zuccarello, Fiala and Donato playing big roles, and draft picks Boldy, Firstov and possibly Filip Johannson seeing time with the NHL team by 2023.
  • Guerin definitely has some work to do on his checklist, including re-signing Spurgeon and Fiala, navigating the murky waters of the Seattle Expansion Draft, and addressing the defensive core, and possibly find another big-minutes center.
  • Minnesota must find a way to get Kirill Kaprizov in a Wild jersey.

What do you think about the potential roster of the Wild in five years? What do you like? What concerns you? What do you agree with, and what did we get totally wrong?