A strong team in NHL needs scoring up and down its lineup and the Wild delivered in this category. I’d be careful though, the word depth is surprisingly weighty among Minnesota Wild fans.
The Wild was injury riddled for so much of the season, and wasn’t getting scoring from its stars in the first month or so. This meant, of course, Dean Evason relied on some of the Wild’s other pieces. Fourth liners were often playing the final crucial minutes of close games.
To some degree just how much responsibility these guys were given was perhaps occasionally overstated, let’s break it down.
Sturm is an interesting case because, personally, I was hoping for his role to grow after the 2021 season. I really thought he had some skill potential. However, I’m not entirely sure if he earned a role growth this past season as much as I thought he did the season previously, although the numbers are pretty comparable: 53 games, 9 goals 8 assists before he was traded and 50 games, 11 goals 6 assists for the previous season. Listen, he’s a solid depth piece. He wasn’t generating a ton of chances this past year but for a guy averaging under 14 minutes a night… I mean, yeah.
Regardless, he finished the season in Colorado and now has his name on the Stanley cup and will hopefully negotiate himself a fine paycheck and some responsibility during free agency, good for him.
Grade: C+ (I took points off for winning a cup without me.)
Tyson Jost joined the Wild a bit before the trade deadline in exchange for Nico Sturm. I had a lot of optimism about his potential to be a difference maker for this team – while he wasn’t necessarily living up to his 10OA potential in Colorado, it’s remarkable what a change in scenery can do for a player if given an opportunity. That being said, I’m not convinced he really got that opportunity. He had 6 points in the 21 games he played for the Wild, with expected goals against 2.09 per 60, which is solid. He had a couple opportunities to play up the lineup and while he didn’t immediately put up Kevin Fiala level numbers, he showed flashes of skill and I personally hope to see him get a chance to build some chemistry with someone besides Brandon Duhaime (no offense, buddy.)
Deano’s favorite pitbull. Duhaime was a fourth-line rookie who made the team out of camp and only missed two games of the 82 season. I think the majority of Wild fans, including myself, was really high on him for the first… third of the season? The Wild’s depth showed up when the topline boys (Kevin Fiala, Kirill Kaprizov) were taking their time to get warmed up, and I think Dewey 1 was a big part of that effort. He was often the guy called up to replace a member on the GREEF line when there was an injury there. He was tough as nails with 201 hits and constantly frothing at the mouth for a fight.
However, as the season went on, there was some reason for critique. Duhaime had 122 penalty minutes and from and from where I was sitting they felt like they came at crucial times, but with +2 penalty differential, he drew more penalties than he took somehow.
Listen, I like the guy.
Minnesota’s perennial, fairly cheap fourth line signing with Nick Bjugstad shook out… fine this year? He missed a big chunk of the season due to injury (uhhhh, we won’t mention how he was injured, so as not to rub salt in the wound for either him or Mats Zuccarello.) He scored 13 points in 57 games. From my eye test he seemed to be a faster skater this past year than he has looked in past seasons. And while playing pretty limited minutes the Wild could count on Bjugstad more than most of their core for in the faceoff circle, winning 55%. From my perspective I’m not sure if we should count on seeing Bjugstad in a Wild sweater again. I thought he was a perfectly serviceable fourth line guy and even brought a burst of energy when he came back after his long injury, but he wasn’t among Dean Evason’s inner circle of favored fourth-liners.
Another trade deadline acquisition. The idea behind this trade was to get an enforcer type fourth line guy that would lessen the need for Marcus Foligno to get into fights every time someone looked at Kaprizov wrong. Initially, he absolutely delivered on that promise. His first game was electric with a goal and a fight. He seemed like someone who was jazzed to play for the Wild, and that was absolutely fun to watch. Dude had 53 hits in 20 games. As time went on, the sheen wore off a bit. He was all but missing in the postseason (although that might have been injury related.) There are arguments to be made that his energy would be useful in a full regular season, but I say pass. I don’t think he moved the needle for this team that much at all.