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Player Grades: Secondary Forwards

Minnesota’s role players were a huge part of the historic 2022 season.

NHL: APR 29 Avalanche at Wild Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the support of superstar scoring and a top-tier defense, the top-nine forwards for the Minnesota Wild truly shined this year. Let’s take a look back on each of their seasons because we all deserve to feel happy sometimes.

Matt Boldy

Boldy had the best season of any of the players on this list, and while it only came over a 47-game sample, his age suggests that there’s nowhere to go from here but up. While he started the season playing 10 games for the Wild’s AHL-affiliate Iowa Wild, by January the big club called upon his services and never looked back.

After scoring in his first regular-season game with Minnesota on Jan. 6, Boldy was humorously consistent month-to-month, scoring four goals and five assists in each of January, February, and March. Over the course of his four months at the NHL level, Boldy already has perhaps a top-ten highlight reel in Wild history.

Most notably, Boldy truly unlocked Kevin Fiala’s scoring. Fiala has been the odd man out in Minnesota in terms of linemates until Boldy came to town. You can see below that once January hit, Fiala started a scoring tear that lasted the entire regular season.

Watching the chemistry that the two players possessed was magical — Boldy and Fiala knew where each other were at all times, and both of them had the passing and finishing ability to connect on what felt like a nightly basis. They complement each other in that Fiala’s speed and transition game is exceptional, while Boldy does great work to get the puck along the boards.

One of the most notable similarities to their game is that both are great on the rush, patient in finding shooting lanes, and handle the puck with precision in limited space. It’s on display in this highlight.

While playing with a linemate as skilled as Fiala certainly helps, I’m not concerned with Boldy keeping up his production. The reason for this is simple: while Fiala most likely contributed to Boldy’s production, we know for a fact that Boldy contributed to Fiala’s game.

Having just turned 21 years old in April, Matt Boldy is already a bona-fide top line winger at an age where most players are considered prospects. Even more interesting, his play gave us a window into just what head coach Dean Evason and General Manager Billy Guerin expect for a young plyer to “earn your spot” a the NHL level.

Grade: A+

Ryan Hartman

Ryan Hartman absolutely popped off this season. If you look up the phrase “career year” in the dictionary, this is what you’ll find instead of a definition:

For the first time in his career, Hartman broke the 20-goal mark, posting an elite 34 goals over the regular season. While he has converted 10.4% of his shots-on-goal into goals for his career, in 2021-22 he converted at a brilliant 14.2%. That kind of shooting bender is almost always unsustainable at the NHL level. For a player who averages about 16 goals per 82 games, many analysts are hesitant that the 27-year-old will reproduce that result even if he centers star scorers Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello next year.

To the haters and losers that are concerned that this just a bunch of lucky shots stacked on top of each other in a Ryan Hartman trench coat, I say this: look deeper. First, Ryan Hartman stacked high value chances all year, ranking 4th on the team with 26.1 expected goals per MoneyPuck.com. To my eye, he rounds out the top tier of that statistic for the Wild, along with Kaprizov (31.2), Fiala, (28.3), and the Wild’s lauded high-danger shot-taker Joel Eriksson Ek (27.5). Fifth-place is Marcus Foligno, dropping off drastically to 17.7.

This means that not only is Hartman a great fit with his linemates’ playmaking ability, but also that even with average shooting luck he would have rocked his career-best 19-goal season in 2021-22. If you’d like to isolate this to only five-on-five play, check the stats below.

Please note that in 2020-21 Victor Rask posted 3.5 xG in 655 five-on-five minutes compared to 2021-22 Hartman’s 15.2 xG in 1133 minutes. The efficiency is about 2.5-times greater on a per-minute basis. This isn’t just a third-line center riding the coattails of Kaprizov and Zuccarello anymore — Hartman is a true fit.

Go enjoy Ryan Hartman’s highlight reel if you still think he’s a passenger on the Wild’s top line. You will see him keeping pace with two excellent skaters with some of the best minds for hockey on this entire earth. I just thank the hockey gods that Harman wasn’t in a contract year, because if this continues he will be cashing out in the twilight of his prime.

Grade: A

Jordan Greenway

Jordan Greenway is a fan favorite, and yet for some he can be terribly frustrating at times. Last year especially, criticism arose even from Wild management that he was a passenger at times.

For fans, that criticism came in more subtle forms. “He doesn’t use his body the way he should, but man if he only did.” “He shows moves that are as good as anybody at times, but he never seems to do anything just after.” At times in 2020-21 he seemed to be the least impactful member of his mainstay line of Marcus Foligno, Eriksson Ek, and himself. While the line itself was monstrously effective in underlying metrics, Greenway’s limited time away from Foligno and Eriksson Ek (two of top-ten defensive forwards in the league by Selke voting) was troubling, tanking his own isolated analytics. Was Greenway a passenger?

In 2021-22, Greenway was reported to have turned over a new leaf. His analytics were rounding a corner, and management was raving about improvements to his habits and attitudes after having leaked their complaints in the offseason prior.

Greenway was awarded a three-year commitment from the Wild at a cap hit of $3MM per year. On top of improved habits, his underlying statistics were greatly improved. Brett Marshall’s PCS statistic was ranking Greenway 155th out of 514 NHL forwards for his two-way game — 70th percentile in the league, or right around the level of a top-six winger.

Watch Jordan Greenway along the boards and in his own zone - he gets the puck, and he moves it to his linemates.

For those of you who are Greenway skeptics as I was, ask yourselves this: how do you think Marcus Foligno scored 19 goals last season and Joel Eriksson Ek became a five-on-five high-danger scoring chance monster? Sure, it rarely looks pretty, but his linemates don’t play a pretty game. Greenway is also a monster at taking away pucks in his own zone, maximizing his massive reach in ways he’s maximized his six-foot-six frame physically.

Grade: B+

Marcus Foligno

I love grading out Marcus Foligno’s season because it takes about five minutes. I know it was good. How do you know that a role player is getting an A+ grade? Go to a game and see his jersey on as many backs as Kirill Kaprizov.

Foligno is the ultimate role player — I truly don’t think there is anybody like him in the league. The wing position is rarely one associated with defense - it’s usually where you place a scorer that’s also a liability on defense, and hope he can score enough to offset that liability or at least back off the opposing team’s defenders. Foligno, on the other hand, has impacts that are visible only after they happen.

As a forechecker, Foligno seems impossible to skate past or get a pass through. He also truly terrifies his opponents defenders, not with speed but with threats and violence like they used to do in the old days. In his own zone and on the penalty kill, the Moose catches it’s prey with a combination of reach, anticipation, and selective pressure. Foligno’s defensive ability is the lynchpin of the GREEF line.

With all of this defense, Foligno is still an NHL-caliber scorer. Give him two feet and two seconds, and he can score on any NHL goalie just like any other NHL forward.

If you like analytics, you know Foligno’s are league-best. Like, literally the best defensive impacts of any forward in the NHL. He’ll probably never win a Selke unless the Wild win a Stanley Cup, but in this state, we will always know how much ass he kicks.

Grade: A+

Frederick Gaudreau

Last offseason, when the Wild brough on Frederick Gaudreau I did not know much about him. I found out that he was 28 years old (now 29), that he had played about 100 NHL games over parts of four NHL seasons, and that his underlying numbers were really solid.

I was initially pretty excited — it seemed to me that the Wild had brought on a cheap, diamond-in-the-rough center to fill out the middle-six forward group. Frankly, I was only confused why he hadn’t played more, since a quality play-driver at the center position is hard to come by in the NHL.

Once Gaudreau hit the ice, I began to see how he had found his way here, and at the same time how he hadn’t stuck in the NHL before. Gaudreau has solid defensive instincts and vision, but seems be a step behind NHL athletes.

Gifted with a spot next to superstar Kevin Fiala based on their past AHL performance under Dean Evason when he coached them in Milwaukee, Gaudreau rode that spot out all season. Most of his plays are passing off the puck to Fiala right as he’s about to be overtaken by a defender. I don’t read these as the plays that elite playmakers create by drawing defenders their way to create space; instead, it looks to me like Fiala is bailing him out by being fast and skilled, and their positional familiarity helps as well. In a way this is a form of chemistry, but we’ve already investigated Fiala’s production before and after Boldy arrived to the NHL.

With all of that said, Gaudreau was there for the Fiala-Boldy show, backstopping them anytime things didn’t go right. He distributed them the puck, won 50% of his faceoffs, and most importantly took the puck away from the opposition so that his star linemates could score at all. He also found a way to knock in 14 goals, which is a solid season for a player who had been sitting on the NHL bubble.

Grade: C-