Last year’s Wild team was easily the best in franchise history. They finished with 100 points for the fifth time, at 113. That was seven points more than 2016-17, the previous best regular season. Sadly, it ended like a lot of other Wild seasons, with a first-round exit. Salary cap issues made their team considerably worse in the offseason, as they had to part with one of their best players. But with over $5 million in space at the time being, it ponders the question, could they have kept Kevin Fiala?
Offseason additions: F Sam Steel, G Jonas Gustavsson, D Andrej Sustr.
Offseason subtractions: F Kevin Fiala, D Dmitry Kulikov, G Cam Talbot, F Nick Bjugstad, D Jordie Benn, F Nicolas Deslauriers.
Following a political scare in Russia, Kirill Kaprizov is back after a fantastic season. Many questioned Minnesota’s decision to give him a monster extension after his rookie season in a shortened season, but the team was quickly rewarded. Kaprizov scored 47 goals with 61 assists for 108 points. Kaprizov was top-five in both goals and points in the league. He played on the top line with two of the league’s surprise players. In his age-34 season, veteran Mats Zuccarello set a new career-high with 79 points in 70 games. Kaprizov and Zuccarello combined for 116 assists alone, with 29 of them coming on the man advantage. The goals on the line went to Kaprizov and center Ryan Hartman, who transitioned from bottom-six forward to top line center. Hartman scored 34 goals at age 27, and was definitely the most unpredictable thirty-plus goal scorer last season.
With Fiala traded to Los Angeles, the third line is certainly the second-best on the team at both ends of the ice. Marcus Foligno led the team with a 57.03 xGF% and a 1.82 xGA/60. He scored a career-high 23 goals on an inflated shooting percentage with 238 hits. Brady Tkachuk, Tom Wilson, and Tanner Jeannot were the only other players with at least 20 goals and 200 hits. Both Foligno and Joel Eriksson Ek have had some Selke hype over the past two seasons, with Eriksson Ek finishing fourth in 2020-21 and seventh last season. His offensive game kicked in for the first time, scoring 26 goals with 49 points in 77 games. Jordan Greenway only had 27 points playing on that line last year, but he had a team-high 68.6 GF%. Sure, a 104.8 PDO was extremely lucky, but the entire Wild team had some puck luck last year.
It will be very interesting to see how Matt Boldy plays in his sophomore season without Fiala. Boldy was dominant as a rookie in 47 games, doing enough to finish eighth in Calder voting. He scored 15 goals with 39 points, plus a 4.33 goals for per 60 minutes. Boldy’s primary center was Frederick Gaudreau, who can move to the wing. Gaudreau’s first year with Minnesota was his breakout season, scoring 14 goals with 44 points in 76 games. In his four years prior, he had 18 points in 108 games for Nashville and Pittsburgh. The threat to move Gaudreau to the wing is Marco Rossi, the 2020 ninth-overall pick who played in two NHL games last season. He played in 63 games at the AHL level after missing just about all of 2020-21 from a COVID-19 related issue. Rossi scored 18 goals with 53 points for the Iowa Wild.
Tyson Jost was involved in the rare player-for-player swap between two contending teams at the deadline when the Avalanche sent him to Minnesota for Nico Sturm. Neither player tore it up with their new team, with Jost having six points in 21 games. He had no points in the playoffs, while his team of six years went on to win the Cup. While he never lit it up in the AHL, Brandon Duhaime won a roster spot last season, and played in 80 games with 17 points. Duhaime had 122 penalty minutes with 201 hits, so his goal scoring wasn’t why he was in the lineup. Former Ducks’ first-round pick Sam Steel signed with the Wild this offseason after Anaheim non-tendered him. He had 20 points in 68 games in 2021-22. Steel is in a competition with Connor Dewar, who had 17 points in 19 AHL games. Dewar played in his first 32 NHL games, scoring twice with four assists. Kyle Rau, who played in five NHL games, dominated the AHL last season as well. In 55 games, he scored 25 goals with 53 points.
One of the three defensive captains in the NHL, Jared Spurgeon’s streak of eight consecutive seasons with triple-digit blocked shots was broken last season, in which he had 83 in 65 games. Spurgeon added 40 points, the second-highest of his career. The most indicative stat of his season was his average ice time. It was his lowest since his rookie season of 2010-11. The Wild got him a new partner at the deadline in Jacob Middleton, who had five points in 21 games. His 50.87 GF% after the trade was the second lowest on the defensive core, so he needs some time to adjust.
The best all-around line on the team consists of Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin. Dumba was an offensive forced in 2017-18 and 2018-19, but hasn’t been able to produce since. He had 27 points in 57 games with 114 hits. Brodin is the best defensive defender on the team, with a 1.92 xGA/60 last season. He had a career-high 30 points and was nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy.
The Wild shockingly received offensive dominance from veteran Alex Goligoski. While he only had 30 points himself, he had a 4.31 GF/60. He was the only NHL defender over four with at least 1000 minutes of ice time. Calen Addison, who was a part of the Jason Zucker trade in 2020, was impressive in 15 games last year. Addison had four points with a 63.06 xGF%. That is higher than any other Minnesota defender, albeit in a small sample size. The emergence of Addison and last year’s acquisition of Middleton could move Jon Merrill to the seventh-defenseman role. Merrill has played for five teams in his career, with both his 69 games played and 20 points last year being career-highs. So were his 112 blocked shots.
The goalies were such an issue last season that the Wild traded for Marc-Andre Fleury midseason. While he was coming off a Vezina-winning season, Fleury’s overall numbers with Chicago and Minnesota were nothing special. He had a .910 save percentage in 11 regular season games after the deal before making it through just five playoff games until being replaced. Cam Talbot started that final game of the season, but was dealt this offseason to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson. Minnesota gets more potential, as Gustavsson had a .933 save percentage in nine 2020-21 games. But in 2021-22, he had a rough 3.55 GAA and .892 save percentage in 18 games. That won’t play for a contender.
Kirill Kaprizov – Ryan Hartman – Mats Zuccarello
Marcus Foligno – Joel Eriksson Ek – Jordan Greenway
Matt Boldy – Marco Rossi – Frederick Gaudreau
Sam Steel – Tyson Jost – Brandon Duhaime
Scratched: Connor Dewar, Kyle Rau
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Jacob Middleton – Jared Spurgeon
Alex Goligoski – Calen Addison
Scratched: Jon Merrill