The dust has settled, at least a little, from the buyout bombshell Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin dropped on us and seemingly Zach Parise and Ryan Suter earlier this offseason. We’ve spent some time reminiscing about both players and their era on the team.
Now, it’s time to look forward. How will we fill the roles both players once had? Both Parise and Suter were important pieces. Regardless of their on-ice performance at its peak or near the end of their time in Minnesota, both maintained essential leadership roles. As alternate captains, Parise and Suter had a major influence on the team on and off the ice, both good and bad.
The Wild have two slots to fill and plenty of players to pick from to wear those letters on their chests. So, the big question heading into next season is, who will have the ‘A’ sewn on to their sweater come opening night? Here I take a look at some of the options, from probable to, well, you’ll see.
Joel Eriksson Ek
Erikkson Ek signed an eight-year, $42-million contract earlier this summer, avoiding restricted free agency. The 24-year-old forward played his first NHL season in 2017-18 and has been a mainstay on the Wild’s roster in recent years. His stats have steadily improved each season, with 29 points in 62 games in the 2019-20 season and 30 in 56 this past one. He was a 2015 first-round pick by the Wild and is one of few testaments to the organization’s development and scouting.
In my terribly biased opinion, Erikkson Ek is a shoo-in for the position. He could fill the forward ‘A’ position Parise left easily, having worn the letter a few times before for the Wild. His role on the ice is also eerily similar to a younger Parise, AKA being an absolute pest in front of the opposing net. Eriksson Ek is going to be a part of this team, and a crucial one, for a long time. I like him, you like him, the guys in the locker room like him. I say the Wild give him ‘A’ chance at a leadership role.
Foligno is an NHL veteran and has been with the Wild for four seasons, after being drafted by and playing six seasons with the Buffalo Sabres organization. At 29 years old, Foligno is still a steady contributor in points and a major element in the Wild’s physicality. He’s frequently been a winger for younger players, including Eriksson Ek, giving him an unofficial leadership role already.
I like this option and I think the Wild do too. Unlike other organizations, who have added sophomore players to their leadership teams, think Connor McDavid and Gabe Landeskog, the Wild tend to lean on veterans. No, they’re not the oldest team in the league anymore, but let’s face it, they’re also not the most innovative in terms of behind-the-scenes culture. While this may be frustrating in other areas, I don’t have an issue with staying more traditional with leadership. Vets make good captains for a reason. Whether or not Foligno is giving the ‘A,’ he is a leader and will continue to be. It’s just a matter of whether the Wild officially recognizes his role.
Dumba, a 27-year-old defenseman, was in expansion draft talks up until Suter was bought out. The 2012 first-round pick has played his whole career with the Wild and has steadily brought in 20 to 25 points per season following a standout campaign in 2017-18 with 50 points (14 G, 36 A).
He’s not perfect on the ice; none of the Wild defensemen are. He’s also not as bad as some Wild fans make him out to be. If the Wild are looking to add another defenseman to the leadership team in place of Suter, Dumba is the obvious choice for me. I can’t see the Wild putting him and Spurgeon out as a D-pairing, so he’d help in times Spurgeon is on the bench. From a logistical standpoint, it makes sense. Plus, I think his advocacy work off the ice and his involvement in the community point to his ability to lead.
Kaprizov was a long-awaited addition to the Wild locker room last season and racked up an impressive 51 points (27 G, 24 A) to win the Wild’s first ever Calder Trophy in franchise history. He had played in the KHL since 2014-15 and at 24, certainly didn’t look like he was having trouble finding his way on the ice in Minnesota.
Now, Jenna, didn’t you just say two players ago that the Wild only pick NHL veterans for leadership roles? Yes, yes I did. However, I think it’s possible the Wild don’t stick to that mentality. Kaprizov is an exceptional player and was a unique rookie last season. I think it’s possible the ‘A’ is an unofficial part of his contract negotiations this offseason. That all being said, the biggest flaw in this plan would be Kaprizov’s language barrier. For the 2020-21 season, Kaprizov used a translator frequently in media interviews. Nevertheless, hockey is a language of its own, and Kaprizov most certainly speaks it.
Eichel has been in trade talks for a while and Minnesota has been connected to his name for a large portion of that time. The current Sabres captain wants out, and really, who can blame him. In his first two seasons as captain, Eichel had 82 and 78 points respectively. Last season he suffered a neck injury and all of the season after that. He’s certainly got the leadership experience and the star power but comes at a high price and with some medical unknowns.
Okay, okay, full disclosure here: I don’t want Jack Eichel to go to Minnesota. At this point that’s not too much of a shock, most fans I’ve talked to agree, but I’ve been against this move since the rumors started. Why? Because I don’t want to like Jack Eichel. I disliked him before I knew I was going to Boston University, and have stuck with it despite going to his alma mater. If he went to the Wild, I’d have to like him. And I just don’t want to. At this point, it seems like a done deal that Eichel is going to Vegas or, at least, not Minnesota. However, there’s still a part of me that’s afraid that I am going to see him in forest green and iron range red next season.
Who should get an ‘A’?
This poll is closed
Joel Eriksson Ek
Other (comment below!)