There has been enough ink spilled about how bad the Minnesota Wild are, so we asking our team at Hockey Wilderness a brave question. Amidst the disastrous starts, poor defense, and miserable goaltending, there has been some shining lights and some players that have made us feel joy.
So, we just have to ask a question.
Question: Who has impressed you?
Eric: If you had asked me before the season started who I thought would have been the most impressive Wild player through five games, I likely would have said Matt Boldy or Kirill Kaprizov. And those two have certainly impressed – notably Boldy, whose possession metrics have been through the roof to start the season. But I’ve been more impressed by the beginning of Mats Zuccarello’s season. With four goals and 10 points through the first five games, the 35-year-old is tied for third in league scoring, behind only Artemi Panarin and Valeri Nichushkin.
Zuccarello was above a point per game last season for the first time in his career, and though it’s still early on, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. It’s worth noting that his shooting percentage is currently 18.2 percent, well above his career average of 11.8 percent. However, in his last three seasons he’s shot at an average of around 15 percent, so it’s well within the realm of possibility that he can sustain this level of production throughout an entire season.
His fancy stats don’t jump off the page as much as Boldy’s, but they’re still quite good, and if you’re tied with Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and David Pastrnak in points you’re doing something right. I’m excited to see what sort of pace he plays at throughout the year – if he keeps this up we may be about to see a career year from the veteran forward.
Justin: Matt Boldy has impressed me most this season. I doubt I’ll be the only one to mention him, and I wouldn’t doubt if he’s the unanimous answer. Boldy has been excellent on offense and in transition, and he’s done it on lines consisting of himself, third/fourth line-ers, and a rookie. By using his teammates in transition, he’s overcoming the difficulties Fiala met with when playing down the lineup and reaping the defensive rewards of playing with grinders.
He’s no longer just the guy who can get a star going – he’s a star who gets going all on his own.
Quinn: Although the start of the season has been anything but perfect, some players have continued to impress. Through the first five games of the season, the most impressive player on the Wild has been rookie defenseman Calen Addison. Despite a minus-7 rating, which is horrendous, he has been able to notch six assists in the first five games. More importantly, however, is that he makes the power play dangerous. Along with Kaprizov and Boldy, he provides the quarterback position to make that unit elite. Now all they have to do is figure out how to play defense, and the season should be a breeze.
Grace: I imagine my co-bloggers at Hockey Wilderness have answered Matt Boldy enough times at this point (which is the correct answer to this subjective exercise, don’t get me wrong) but as an attempt to diversify I’m going to throw out Mats Zuccarello. This is a nuanced conversation, because the team as a whole has been, uhhhh, streaky defensively, and Zucc is not exempt from that critique, he’s rocking a not so pretty -7 right now. But my dude has a team leading 10 points to his name: four goals, tied with Kirill, and six assists. Seeing Zucc take advantage of his out of this world superstar counterpart, Kirill, isn’t what has made him stand out this season to me – that’s to be expected. I’m just thrilled to see him shooting the puck. Zuccarello isn’t just passing, he’s shooting! He’s scoring! If Zuccarello keeps up this new habit of shooting on occasion rather than only looking for his bosom buddy, the offense will keep being deadly. It’s obvious the Wild as a whole has taken a step back defensively, but hockey is a streaky game and the season is long. There’s reason to expect they’ll right the bus. With a hopefully improved defense alongside an offensive core that can’t stop won’t stop scoring goals, Minnesota could get scary for other teams again.
Matt: It’s Calen Addison and I’m willing to call anyone a liar to their face if they disagree. He may have the pedigree; he may have been the prized return in Jason Zucker trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins — sorry Alex Galchenyuk stans — but I don’t think anyone thought he’d look this good this quickly.
No rookie defenseman has ever this hot for the Wild. His raw point production has been elite — he leads all rookies in assists and is tied for the lead in points — and with the slump that Jonas Brodin has started the season, he’s looked the Wild’s best defensemen on most nights. His underlying numbers are also looking shiny, generating good offence from the point, while performing better than we expected on the defensive side of the ice, limiting opponents to minus-0.03 expected goals against per hour while on the ice compared to league average, according to HockeyViz.com.
The defense has been the black mark on the Wild’s start to the season, but Addison has been anything but.
Thomas: I feel like the obvious choice is Matt Boldy, but it was pretty well known that he would be dominant this year. So, a player that has somewhat already surpassed expectations has certainly been Calen Addison. The young blueliner was slotted in to just be a “happy to be here” presence at the back, finally getting a full-time chance to just play NHL games regularly — but he has made the powerplay unstoppable and has earned a chance in the top-four just five games into the season.
The hype died on him relative to other young defensemen coming in, but he is still so damn young and so damn talented.
What say you? Who do you think is the most impressive player for the Wild so far this season? Let us know in the comments.