As we make our way down the lineup, looking at the tiers of Minnesota Wild forwards and how their season went, it’s honestly tough not to say that everyone did a great job and poetically pat them on the back.
This team wasn’t supposed to be anything special but turned into one that people jumped on the bandwagon for and go to join in on the fun of Kirill Kaprizov clutch goals and Matt Dumba screaming around the ice like a mad man.
Aside from those top forwards, let’s look down our list and grade out how the complimentary dudes did.
Coming into the season, everyone knew that Foligno would be relied upon to give some stability through the middle-six of the lineup and be his usual defensively-reliable self on a line with Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway. That trio put up some of the league’s best expected goal numbers and was able to dictate play masterfully.
That exact scenario continued into the 2020-21 season. They were reunited — as expected — and they were one of the key lines that kept the Wild competitive no matter the game situation. Maybe not the most offensively-powerful line in existence, but Eriksson Ek’s surge into an even-strength goalscorer was in large part due to Foligno’s ability to keep the puck in the offensive zone and keep it right where Minnesota needed it to be.
Foligno was above league-average in terms of goals, expected goals, and shot RAPM (Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus) and drove play incredibly well. Just amazing underlying numbers for a player heading into a new contract and into his 30’s. More offense could have existed and his shot percentage is completely unsustainable — scored 11 goals on just 40 shots through 39 games — but it was noticeable when he was out with a brief injury late into the season. He is certainly a key member of this forward group and earned that new shiny three-year extension.
Greenway was called out this summer and he accepted the challenge of getting better. At times during last season all you could see is a player mismanaged that didn’t quite fit into the role he was given or the opportunity. His skillset that he put on display in college was too raw to be useful at the NHL level and he was the constant target of blame whenever they underperformed.
But this season was a different story. Sure, it helps having two of the NHL’s best defensive players next to you in Eriksson Ek and Foligno, but Greenway was a forechecking machine at times and he completely utilized his 6-foot-6 frame to punish any defenders trying to keep possession.
He was able to rack up 26 assists (the most of any Wild player) and even slightly underperformed his shot rate with just 7.5 percent of his shots on goal making it behind the opposing netminder (six goals). Greenway certainly outperformed his expectations, but he was clearly the complimentary player on a very good two-way line through the regular season. Improvement, but in a vacuum, there’s still some missing.
The Lizard King himself provided a nice secondary scoring punch while being mainly paired with Kirill Kaprizov, no matter who their center was. The chemistry was almost immediate as the two were throwing cross-ice passes at each other with the ease of an air hockey table in your cousin’s basement. Certainly having that player on his opposite wing helped him rack up a number of his 11 goals and 35 points through 42 games, but Zuccarello was able to self-supply some goals as well.
Whether it was his incredibly-way-too-long stick or his hockey sense that has carried him through age-33 season, Zuccarello is still — and will hopefully — be an important contributor for the top-six of this team. His season might have been marred with some injury and slight underperformance in the postseason, but the production was certainly still there and he didn’t disappoint.
In terms of on-ice play-driving, only Victor Rask and Marcus Johansson had a worst on-ice expected goals for percentage among regular Wild forwards and any defensive woes was carried by a very good on-ice save percentage. Of course that side of the ice is basically non existent for Zuccarello — and his been through his career — but being in Minnesota, you notice the one-way players a little bit more.