Minnesota Wild 2021-22 Season Preview

The team drenched in mediocrity finally saw a way out last year… and they lost in the first round again. The Wild, perhaps by pure chance or by great roster construction, were a dominant regular season team in an admittedly weak West Division. Still, they managed to go toe-to-toe with the Golden Knights of all teams. The offseason was rather damp, as the team did take a hit defensively and bought out their two most well-known players. But they still have a bright future.

Offseason additions: D Alex Goligoski, D Dmitry Kulikov, D Jon Merrill, D Jordie Benn, F Frederick Gaudreau.

Offseason subtractions: D Ryan Suter, F Zach Parise, D Carson Soucy, F Nick Bonino, D Ian Cole, F Marcus Johansson, F Luke Johnson.

Forwards

The story of the Minnesota offseason were the contract negotiations between the team and star Kirill Kaprizov. He came from the KHL and absolutely dominated the league in his rookie season, taking home the Calder Trophy. The restricted free agent wanted a huge deal, and used his home country of Russia as leverage. And boy, did he get that huge deal. He’s a Wild for five more seasons now. Kaprizov led the team with 27 goals and 51 points. The team failed to get him a center to play with, so it looks like he will remain next to Victor Rask, who is closer to a fourth line center than a top one. Rask scored ten goals with 23 points last season, each his most since 2017-18. If there is one thing that he does well, it’s staying disciplined. Rask took just one minor penalty all season. Kevin Fiala made positive strides for the second season in a row. Despite playing in 50 games, he reached the 20 goal mark with 20 assists to go along with it. Veteran Mats Zuccarello’s second season with Minnesota was better than his first. He showed his playmaking ability, with 24 assists as well as 11 goals. The Wild locked up center Joel Eriksson Ek for eight years after he had a great two-way season. He had 105 hits and finished fourth in Selke voting. Eriksson Ek also scored a career high 19 goals and 30 points. After years of bad shooting luck, he had a great shooting percentage of 16%. Big winger Jordan Greenway may have scored just six times last year, but his career-best 26 assists rose his point total to a personal record. He just missed out on 100 hits for the second season in a row, but did tie for second on the team with 49 penalty minutes. The guy he tied with was Marcus Foligno, who has grown into an elite player defensively. He finished 11th in Selke voting, and behind just Mark Stone, Brad Marchand, and Mitch Marner among wingers. Foligno also scored 11 goals in 39 games, for a pace of 23 over 82 games. Minnesota could rely on Ryan Hartman to play center more after Nick Bonino departed in free agency. Hartman scored seven goals, and his 22 points was his most since 2017-18. The South Carolina native signed a three-year extension for a total of $5.1 million in the offseason. The 12th pick in 2019, Matt Boldy has a very good chance of capturing a top-nine role. He dominated at Boston College, scoring 11 goals with 31 points in 22 games. He then played 14 games in the AHL, scoring six goals with 12 assists. While injuries have plagued his career, Nick Bjugstad had a nice season playing small minutes for his hometown team. Once a 24 goal scorer with Florida, Bjugstad netted six last year with 17 points in 44 games. Still, a 32 point pace is not bad for a guy in his role. Undrafted 26-year-old Nico Sturm was a pleasant surprise in his rookie season, even while averaging under 11 minutes on ice a night. Sure, he had a 17.2 shooting percentage, but Sturm did score 11 times in 50 games, exceeding expectations. Frederick Gaudreau was a very good plug-and-play guy for the Penguins last year. He had 10 points in 19 games, then scored a goal with two assists in their six-game playoff series loss. He will certainly get a better opportunity with the Wild. Kyle Rau has played more games with the Wild than any of the other competitors for the 13th forward role. He played in 14 games last year, with two assists.

Defensemen

The biggest challenge for this defense will be recuperating from their offseason losses. Stable veteran Ryan Suter was bought out, Seattle snagged physical guy Carson Soucy, and Ian Cole walked. The loss of Suter should feel more monumental, but Jared Spurgeon had already taken the reigns of the team. The captain had a bit of a disappointing offensive season, scoring seven goals with 25 points. Still, he is an elite two-way defender who also finished second in Lady Byng voting last year, something tough to do as a defenseman. Defensive defenseman Jonas Brodin is starting his long-term contract after another good year. He scored 23 points while averaging his most minutes on ice per game since 2014-15. Brodin blocked 99 shots last year, and is 11 away from 1000 in his career. One of the main reasons to buy out Suter was to protect offensive defenseman Matt Dumba from the Kraken. Dumba is a good player and is a former King Clancy winner, although he does have some defensive issues. In 51 games last year, he scored 21 points while coming very, very close to the career milestones of 500 blocks and 600 hits. The veteran replacement on the left side is 36-year-old Alex Goligoski, who signed a one year deal. He has been a consistent 30+ point scorer in his career, and was on pace to do it again, with 22 in 56 games. Since 2013-14, Goligoski has reached triple-digit blocks in each and every season. The Wild gave Dmitry Kulikov a two-year deal after he had a surprisingly good season between New Jersey and Edmonton. His four points in 48 games does not fully do him justice. The Wild know that, as they gave him over $2 million a season. The final spot is between incoming veterans Jordie Benn and Jon Merrill. Benn could have the advantage thanks to more experience on the right side. Benn spent last year between the Canucks and Jets, which is tough given that defense is closer to optional for those teams. He scored 10 points in 39 games, with 51 blocked shots. Merrill is a strong defender, and showed that with Detroit. He blocked 58 shots in 36 games. He played in 13 games for the Canadiens in their run to the finals.

Goalies

Minnesota was fortunate enough to keep both of their capable goalies away from Seattle. The elder Cam Talbot will be the starter after he donned the crease to a .923 save percentage in their seven playoff games. Talbot was good in the regular season too, with a 2.63 GAA and a .915 save percentage. Backing him up is Kaapo Kahkonen, the 25-year-old who had his ups-and-downs. The final results were not great, as he posted a .902 save percentage in 24 games.

Projected Lines

Kirill Kaprizov – Victor Rask – Mats Zuccarello

Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Kevin Fiala

Matt Boldy – Ryan Hartman – Marcus Foligno

Nico Sturm – Nick Bjugstad – Frederick Gaudreau

Extras: Kyle Rau

Jonas Brodin – Jared Spurgeon

Alex Goligoski – Matt Dumba

Dmitry Kulikov – Jordie Benn

Extras: Jon Merrill

Cam Talbot

Kaapo Kahkonen

Prediction

The return to the Central Division is going to be a lot tougher than the West was last year. The awful division benefitted them, but they were still a very, very good team a season ago. They may not capture a divisional spot, but they should for sure get a wild card slot and make it back to the postseason.

Published by carterhud

Carterhud.com. SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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