The Minnesota Wild were projected to have one of the deepest forward groups in the league, an amount of depth that creates this constant plane of pressure and ability. Unfortunately, there was no one really around to lift the top and create an imbalance through the lines that most teams have.
Instead there are waves of solid, dependable forwards that just lack some shine—except of a youngsters of course. This is something that has been going on in Minnesota for a while now, so we’re used to it, but it makes sense when a player that was able to make a brief appearance last season just makes a seamless transition into the team due to some absences.
Gerald Mayhew, and his band of merry men, came to the Wild’s rescue when wingers Kevin Fiala was suspended for an unfortunate boarding incident and Marcus Foligno was placed on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list. For me, it was Mayhew that made a lasting impression that made me, well, try and write this post.
With all the uncertainty surrounding this season, it appears that he was preparing for this very moment.
“You’ve got to be ready with this year. Covid, injuries, you’re going to get a chance to play. You just have to wait for your number to be called upon. We have to step up in times like this,” Mayhew told media on Tuesday. “When you’re called upon, you’ve got to be ready.”
Flying around like a bat out of hell with its head cut off, the undrafted forward just looked the part against an albeit injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche last night. He even threw in a couple of meaningful screens in front of Philipp Grubauer, including one where he was able to contribute to the Wild’s only goal.
Kirill Kaprizov has turned Victor Rask into a goal scoring machine pic.twitter.com/kiW19KbGfu— CJ Fogler Ol' Steroid Ass #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) February 1, 2021
Obviously it helps having a skilled player like Kirill Kaprizov on the same line as you, but he didn’t look out of place at all. He was able to sustain pressure on any Colorado possession and keep up with the star rookie; that’s all you can really ask from a 28-year-old dude that went through all four years of NCAA hockey and has been busy racking up points in Iowa.
All of this play has led to an on-ice expected goals for percentage of 54.21, putting him 11th among all players, but that’s on an already possession-dominant Wild team.
It’s such a small sample size so we can’t take too much away from his first two games in the NHL this season, but there’s a history to the same type of player coming into the big leagues and finding success among the NHL’s elite, as he is with Kaprizov right now (I’m not saying Kirill is among the league’s elite players, yet. Don’t worry.)
The recent trend we have been seeing the league the past few years is a balanced forward line with one dude that will just non-stop bash into things and go retrieve the puck for the better players. Essentially the golden retriever of wingers, we saw it when Alex Burrows was playing next to the Sedins in Vancouver and we saw it a couple years ago when Zach Hyman found success playing next to Auston Matthews and John Tavares after that. It makes sense to balance—as we all know coaches love to do that with the complete roster—but with such a high-impact player like Kaprizov, it makes sense to have a sidekick like Mayhew that can go take the first bullet of the opposing team’s possession.
It might not come to fruition, but since Dean Evason doesn’t ever feel like keeping a consistent linemate next to our rookie, stapling Mayhew next to him for the foreseeable future can be beneficial for both. It can all come to nothing and when Fiala returns, he might be on his way back to Iowa, but after what I’ve been able to see the last couple of games, he deserves to at least take one of the 12 spots.
Like, c’mon, looks also matter.