The Minnesota Wild’s 2021-22 season was historic. A monumental campaign full of breaking records and hope that this organization can turn the difficult corner, going from mediocre playoff team to dangerous opposition. While the Wild certainly gave the St. Louis Blues a test in the first round, it was more of the same and a first-round exit greeted them after six games.
Now, moving on and through a summer where Minnesota had to shed some contracts and key players — primarily Kevin Fiala — due to financial difficulties, the Wild have a similar enough roster heading into training camp this week. But what are some of the big questions hopefully answered in the next couple of weeks?
There are certainly some spots in the lineup that are questionable and players we want to see more of.
Will we see Marco Rossi’s evolution?
Easily the most exciting part of the upcoming training camp is seeing Marco Rossi one year later and more certain to make the Wild’s roster full-time. With no contractual gains to be had for the Wild and a spot in the lineup for him to take, Rossi would have to be a total disaster every time he steps on the ice if he is not in St. Paul when the Wild open the season against the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.
Rossi has certainly taken care of the AHL at this point — leading the team in scoring during your rookie year explains that — so now we are just left with wondering what’s next. Will he immediately look good enough to take the second-line center spot with Matt Boldy on his wing? Or will he need some time to adjust to the NHL speed and start the season in a more depth role? I think the answer to those questions will become more clear as pre-season rolls on and we see what head coach Dean Evason decides to do throughout.
Can Tyson Jost step up?
After getting traded to the Wild, Jost played 21 games in the regular season, earned six points, and averaged just 12:51 TOI. Not the most impressive performance from the former first-round pick, but this season is a new one and has all the blank slate analogies you want for Jost.
Now, with Kevin Fiala gone and a couple weeks to win over the coaching staff, Jost has an opportunity to jump the line and take that second-line winger spot — or just be ahead of some other names like Connor Dewar or Brandon Duhaime. It all depends on what he can do before the season, but he should be given a lot of opportunity to show if he can take advantage.
What will be the first impressions of Sam Steel?
Unless something goes terribly wrong, we should expect Sam Steel to be on the NHL roster next month. Not that any position is handed out, but considering the fact that he is a young center, will need to clear waivers, and is making next to nothing on his contract; he might as well hang around.
Whether or not he plays games and in a decently-sized role will be up to him and the coaching staff and what they do in the next few weeks. He certainly has some skill and possibly enough to hang with some of the middle-six forwards that the Wild currently have. It will be interesting to see who he plays with in the preseason and how that changes.
Can Calen Addison take control?
With the recent departure of Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill starting his season on the sidelines with an injury, this is Calen Addison’s time to basically stroll his way into a full-time job. The spot in the lineup is largely uncontested to start, but it will be incredibly interesting if he is given a little bit more of an opportunity to crack into the top-four during camp. The quartet of Spurgeon-Middleton-Brodin-Dumba is as unbreakable a top-four defenseman group as any in the NHL, but maybe Addison can chip away with more impressions and win over some coaches?
He should at least strive to keep his job once Merrill is back.
How will Frederick Gaudreau and Brandon Duhaime handle fighting for their spots?
While we spent the first three questions talking about players that didn’t play or hardly played for the Wild last season, we do have to wonder about the guys that did. Two forwards that can easily be spotted as targets to healthy scratch or just not play as much are Brandon Duhaime and Frederick Gaudreau. If Steel outplays Gaudreau, well there’s an adequate center spot taken. If some depth player like Mitchell Chaffee or Mason Shaw suddenly play their way into the lineup (like Duhaime did last year) then that guy can find himself out of the lineup.
They will have a load of hungry forwards nipping at their heels for their spots, and it all depends on how they handle that and if they can big-brother their way into their previous roles by pushing away the younger guys.
There are certainly some interesting narratives heading into Minnesota’s training camp, especially for a roster that we assumed was already concrete.