We are approaching the start of a brand new 82-game season. Players are leaving their home countries and states to join the team here in Minnesota. Some are coming from up north or around the corner. We see the fresh sheet of ice as we get excited for another season to start. There's excitement surrounding the state of hockey. Now we look at some questions that need to be answered or will be answered throughout the season.
1) When will Kirill Kaprizov be signed?
This is the TOP headline as the Minnesota Wild are getting ready to start training camp and it needs to be addressed. Been scoping around and have found a video on Wild.com about the status of the contract negotiations between Bill Guerin and Kaprizov.
Guerin states he's not in a rush to sign Kaprizov and he's confident everything will work out. He's not worried about the KHL neither. The thing is Kaprizov is going to miss training camp and if a contract still isn't signed concerns will continue to grow as Kaprizov's not playing with the team as the 2021-2022 NHL season is approaching. The Wild aren't the same team without Kaprizov not matter how much you try to paint a pretty picture. What's the holdup? Contract bonuses? Well he did win the Calder trophy with Victor Rask as his primary center. Imagine what he'll accomplish with players like Joel Eriksson Ek or rookie Marco Rossi. So I'd say he deserves a bonus. PAY THE MAN AND LET'S PLAY!
2) Will Marco Rossi be the team's top center right out of the gate?
Marco Rossi has been an incredible story especially the fact he kicked death's ass and is a man on a mission to make the big club and prove he can be one of the best players in the NHL. Question is will he be that player right away? Rossi is a training beast and is already prepared to play with NHLers. How soon can he get comfortable and make an impact? He's highly confident and determined to make a name for himself.
He's gotten stronger and has worked his ass off improving his skating. Now he needs to play. What he needs to get adjusted to is the professional life of an NHL player. He already knows how to do that. The competition will be tougher. He has the brains and package to thrive. If anything his adjustment period will be short-lived. We have a gem here folks. Answer this question with your actions Marco. He knows he has to prove himself too. How will the Wild react to a highly motivated Rossi?
3) Is this the new Joel Eriksson Ek?
Eriksson Ek is an emerging player who finished 4th in Selke voting. He's younger than Sasha Barkov, Mark Stone, Patrice Bergeron, and of course Ryan O'Reilly who finished not that far behind. Of course all of these players bring different styles to the table. Eriksson Ek's production may not ever blow you out of the water like Barkov's, but he's capable of providing secondary scoring in a top-6 because the 20-goal upside is there and it's not too much to see him as a 50+ point center. With his role being elevated this is probably why Guerin didn't overpay for a Christian Dvorak who is a step below Eriksson Ek. He wants Ek to grow and he has earned the opportunity. Ek has more to prove actually. So he'll be playing with a chip on his shoulder. I don't want Rask to take a top-6 spot JEE.
4) How fast will Matt Boldy's transition to the NHL be?
I honestly think it won't take too much time for Boldy to adjust. What he needs to get used to is professional hockey scheduling. He's not playing in college no more. So he's going to be playing an 82-game schedule and will need to realize he's going to be playing at a faster and high skilled pace. Boldy is built for the NHL. He has the size combined with skating and dynamic skill. He hasn't grown into his body yet so I'd imagine he worked on getting bigger this offseason as well. He's used to playing in the rough areas of the ice however. Once he adjusts to the NHL life we could have ourselves a unique powerforward.
5) When will Jordan Greenway stop being the nice guy?
I'm going to make this short and simple. Greenway doesn't realize his true potential. If he wants to take his game to new heights he needs to apply himself when it comes to his battle level. He should be playing like a menace. Be our Tom Wilson. Just a cleaner version. If he plays with this mentality he should be able to take the next step after leading the team in assists. You are in a contract year Greenway. Make it count!
6) Who will step up and eat minutes and make an impact as Ryan Suter is no longer on the team?
Suter was well known as our minute eater. He played in all situations and stabilized the defensive core. He was a staple thanks to his steady approach and excellent two-way performance. Now that he's gone who's going to emerge? This is the time for Matt Dumba to rebound because he's a Wild Card. When Dumba's producing and showing offensive consistency the team's blueline is better. This is where he needs to show more consistency and show he's worth $6M. Dumba is our most offensively gifted blueliner. Calen Addison just arrived and we still need to know who he is at the NHL level.
Jared Spurgeon no longer has Suter as his defensive partner. For a while those two were good together, but I feel like Spurgeon was in Suter's shadow. Now he gets to make a full name for himself and not be Suter's defensive partner. Not saying Spurgeon will hit a new level of stardom, but with him wearing the C and being motivated to bounceback after a disappointing postseason we should see a more consistent Spurgeon offensively. Alex Goligoski doesn't do much for me as he's expected to play the minutes and be a placeholder for someone like Ryan O'Rourke I'm assuming. He's here to support the leadership of Spurgeon. Jonas Brodin might show a little more offense. I'm mainly talking about the top-4 and Addison. Jon Merrill, Dmitry Kulikov, and Jordie Benn are what they are. Depth contributors who are good team players.
7) What will be Nico Sturm's role?
Sturm was kind of bounced around. Including from the press box. The likes of Rask got more ice time and a bigger role while Sturm was still trying to find his identity. He's a big power center with speed who can crash the net and contribute to puck possession because how aggressive he can be on the forecheck. It's suggested he needs a playmaking winger or linemate. Sturm will be playing with a chip on his shoulder and he's in a contract year too. I feel like he has more to give.
8) Where does Kaapo Kahkonen go on from here?
You thought I was going to ask about Cam Talbot and how he'll fare against heavier competition in the Central. While that's something to look at as he's our number one goalie Kahkonen is the prized one here. He had a solid rookie campaign and is looking to turn the page. His assignment during the offseason was to evaluate his performance and see how he can steal the starting job from Talbot. Talbot's 34 and isn't exactly someone like Marc-Andre Fluery or Carey Price who is a future HOF that can still play at a high level in their mid to late 30s. Talbot's not at that level. He can't be burned out and be expected to take the Wild deep. He needs help. Kahkonen needs to step up and rise. Goalies are a mystery and peak later than others. If Kahkonen can rise and put himself on the map the Wild will be better off.
9) How does Dean Evason and Frederick Gaudreau's relationship affect the team's success?
Guerin signed Gaudreau because of his familiarity with Evason. Also he's known to be a playoff contributor who plays with heart and with snarl. Also he can be a good and reliable depth piece because of his ability to play center and wing. I'd be a bonus if Gaudreau can be last year's Ryan Hartman and play up and down the lineup just in case of injuries. That's important for playoff success. Gaudreau is going to play some kind of role with this team, but I don't want him anywhere near Kevin Fiala!
10) When is Kevin Fiala going to get love?
Fiala is in another contract year. The Wild are in cap hell and Fiala will again be an RFA. Fiala has shown he can be a high impact player, but it doesn't help that he continues to play with incompetent linemates who are more suited for the bottom-6. If anything Fiala is going to have to prove himself worthy of being a core piece to Guerin. Without a real center Kaprizov was exposed in the playoffs. For Fiala he has a lot of fire in him and he deserves to play with better linemates. If anything he did have a better showing in the postseason than Kaprizov even though it didn't translate to points. This season Fiala wants to show the NHL he can be a game-changing machine.
11) Are the Minnesota Wild pretenders or contenders? How will they fare in a tougher Central division?
The Wild are no longer playing majority of their games against the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, and Los Angeles Kings. They will be going back to the Central where teams are a lot better. If anything the teams who are expected to miss the playoffs in the Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks, and Coyotes will be motivated to prove doubters wrong. Also the Wild are looking like a Wild Card team again. The Dallas Stars have improved. The Winnipeg Jets can surprise people if Pierre-Luc Dubois can rebound and their blueline showing that they improved. Connor Hellebuyck is their face. The St.Louis Blues are expected to finish top-2 in the Central unless Dallas doesn't get hindered by injuries. The Colorado Avalanche own the Central. The Wild have their work cut out for them.
12 and final) What will the lines look like on opening night?
Evason will be doing line juggling to see who fits in with who. The team doesn't have a true established top center yet. So it creates competition and opportunities. It's exciting to see more prospects make an impression like Adam Beckman and Alexander Khovanov. By the time opening night starts we should see a balanced lineup from top to bottom as we can roll 4 lines. Assuming Kaprizov gets signed before opening night here's what the lines could look like:
Mats Zuccarello - Marco Rossi - Kirill Kaprizov
Jordan Greenway - Joel Eriksson Ek - Kevin Fiala
Matt Boldy - Nico Sturm - Marcus Foligno
Frederick Gaudreau - Victor Rask - Ryan Hartman
Alex Goligoski - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba
Dmitry Kulikov - Calen Addison/Jon Merrill/Jordie Benn
This season is all about the kids and the core of Kaprizov, Fiala, Eriksson Ek, Greenway, Brodin, and Dumba. Sturm and Kahkonen will need to unleash themselves. The veterans are here for leadership. Let's see how this team fares in a pretty strong Central, but an overall weak Western Conference. Pretenders or contenders?