In the last year, it would be hard to deny the massive change in the feeling of the Minnesota Wild organization. In GM Bill Guerin’s first few years, he has made it very clear that he did not want to continue the ways of the past. While a lot of the changing tides has to do with management, it would be foolish to ignore the contributions of the individuals on the ice.
With that being said, let’s start with a few honorable mentions.
“The Lizard” has been a fan favorite since he arrived in Minnesota. With 24 points in 24 games, he has been an undeniably important part of the Wild’s offense. While a lot of offense on the top line is driven by Kaprizov, Zuccarello has continued to be a great distributer. With 8 goals on top of that, he is able to clean up chances that Kaprizov or Hartman can’t finish.
Dumba is arguably one of the Wild’s most electric and offensive players. He possesses a rare trait that allows him to make plays that completely change the momentum of a game. On top of that, he’s a great leader, person, and member of the Minnesota community. While the team is going to be crunched by the cap over the next few years, Dumba is one of the guys who I really hope Minnesota can hang on to.
Like Dumba, Foligno is a complete heart and soul player. On top of that, the last year has seen his role skyrocket, largely through his role on the outstanding GREEF line that has proven itself as one of the best two-way lines in the NHL. Foligno is a great shutdown forward, but with 20 points in 30 games, his power forward game translates to the offensive zone.
Fiala has had one of the least fortunate starts to a season in recent memory among a Wild player. Despite generating countless chances, he’s finished at a terrible rate. However, Fiala has been known to start slow, and his production has been trending upwards lately. With a great ending to the season last year, Fiala safely earns a spot in the honorable mention category.
Now that we have covered the honorable mentions, let’s break down the top five (in no particular order). At the end of the article, I have included some stats from Evolving Hockey on each player in the top five below.
When Minnesota took Kaprizov with the 135th pick of the 2015 draft, I doubt they expected that they had just acquired arguably the most important player in franchise history. In his first 85 NHL games, Kaprizov has proven to be one of the most elite offensive players in the NHL. While this season started very cold, Kaprizov has came back roaring. The offense he brings is obviously important, but I think a major part of Kaprizov’s value comes from the shift in culture he provided for the organization. Before Kaprizov arrived, the Wild were an annual playoff team. But, to say the typical game was thrilling would be a major stretch. Solid defense and mediocre forwards were the norm. As each year proved, there was going to have to be changes if the Wild were going to make it past the first round of the playoff. After Kaprizov scored the first goal of his career in his NHL debut against Los Angeles, it became increasingly clear that a new era had hit Minnesota. While the playoff success hasn’t come yet, Kaprizov’s ability to take over a game should help Minnesota overcome their playoff woes in the years to come.
When Bill Guerin named Jared Spurgeon captain, it was clear that he believed Spurgeon to be the guy that could resolve the seldom spoken about locker room riffs that had been troubling the Wild behind the scenes for the previous few years. While the previous leaders did a lot for the Wild, it had become clear that there needed to be a change in the culture. Jared Spurgeon and his ability to lead by example proved to be the change that Bill Guerin and his staff were looking for.
Spurgeon’s leadership has clearly changed the Wild, but even before he was given the C his game was one of the most essential for the success of the team. On both ends of the ice, Spurgeon constantly proves why he is considered one of the most underrated defenseman in the league. He is great on the powerplay, can kill penalties, is a great skater, and possesses a top-notch hockey IQ. All of this considered, Spurgeon is a hands-down top five player for the Wild right now. If the team expects any success in the long run, he will need to stay healthy.
Joel Eriksson Ek
After Eriksson Ek’s breakout year last year, expectations have remained high. Despite this, his game has continued to improve. Mentioned earlier when discussing Foligno, the GREEF line has continued to shut down the best players in the NHL every night. Their combination of size and speed has the potential to shrink space for top players, suffocating most of their scoring chances. In my opinion, Eriksson Ek is the driving force of this line’s success. He rarely loses a battle, he draws more penalties than any other player in the league, and he is one of the smartest players on Minnesota’s roster. For a player who was briefly considered a bad draft pick, Eriksson Ek has proven the value of giving a prospect the time to develop. His game has quickly evolved from a modest role to the Wild’s most important center. Needless to say, but Eriksson Ek’s 2021 was a great one.
Brodin might be my favorite player to watch on the Wild’s roster. While Spurgeon is often praised as an unsung hero in the NHL, I think Brodin is criminally underrated. First of all, his skating is probably the best on the entire Wild roster. If you don’t believe me, re-watch the Edmonton game and enjoy every shift where Brodin was matched with McDavid. There are very few players, if any, in the NHL that could skate with McDavid like Brodin did. Brodin’s skating has always been his strength, along with his defensive awareness. What elevated Brodin’s game this year, in my eyes, was the confidence he shows on the offensive side of the puck. Whether he is trying to fill Suter’s offensive void or he just found more confidence, Brodin has shown a much stronger offensive game than in years prior. If this element of his game continues and his defensive dominance holds constant, the sky is the limit for Brodin.
Ryan Hartman, relatively speaking, has had the best 2021 on the Wild roster. After signing a robbery of a contract in order to get some stability and settle down, Hartman has massively over-performed. His game started showing flashes of improvement towards the end of last season, but he looked like a completely different player when training camp started this year. After a summer spent by many Wild fans complaining about how Kaprizov didn’t have a center that could score, Ryan Hartman clearly decided he was going to be that guy. Currently sitting at 14 goals and 26 points in 30 games, Hartman’s career year has been colored by great offensive and defensive performances. As many members of the team say, Hartman is a pure team player. Regardless of where he is in the lineup, he finds a way to fill the role that he believes he should fill. Whether it is goal scoring or grit, Hartman finds a way to make an impact in the game. 2021 has been the year where Hartman emerged as a fan favorite in Minnesota.
Top 5 Players Advanced Stats
|Joel Eriksson Ek||21-22||MIN||C||30||561.7||11||5||4||20||89||104||130||9.12||12.36||10.58||8.77||21||3||10||51||45||8||22||0||0||14||282||305||-23|