|Thomas Vanek – LW||Matt Moulson – LW|
|Brett Sutter – LW||Dany Heatley – LW|
|Stu Bickel – D||Nate Prosser – D|
|Clayton Stoner – D|
|Ilya Bryzgalov – G|
|Cody McCormick – C|
In their third season under head coach Mike Yeo, the Minnesota Wild played to 43 wins (most since 20087-08) and got passed the Western Conference Quarterfinals for the first time since 2002-03.
After having one of the better seasons in their franchises’ history the Wild have a lot to look forward to in 2014-15. This offseason they signed Thomas Vanek to a three-year deal worth $19.5 million. He joins an already profound group of forwards that will look to improve on their 2.43 goals per game that ranked 24th in the NHL a season ago. Vanek bounced around from Buffalo to Long Island to Montreal last season but still posted one of the highest point totals of his career (68 points in 78 games). He came up short in the playoffs for the Canadiens, but there is no denying his potential for a 30-goal, 40 assist season.
Couple Vanek’s talent with the likes of Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter and you are looking at a pretty dangerous offence. In his second season in Minnesota, Parise had 29 goals and 27 assists (56 points) in 67 games. He missed a large chunk of the season with a broken foot, but after returning in mid-March he played his best hockey of the season posting 17 points (8G / 9A) in 20 games. Parise has averaged 3.7 shots per game in two years with the Wild, which is down from the 4.4 he averaged when he scored 45 goals in 2008-09 in New Jersey. Despite diminishing shot totals, Parise is not a player who misses time due to injury, so expect a healthy season and a lock for 30 goals with the potential for a return to the 40-goal club.
As far as the other forwards are concerned, Pominville is one of the most consistent and dependable forwards in the NHL and will stabilize any fantasy roster. Koivu is pretty much the same, you will not get a lot of goal production, but 40-plus assists is a near certainty. Then there is the two 22-year-olds. After disappointing with the Islanders, Niederreiter started coming into his own last season. He finished the year with 14 goals and 22 assists (36 points) in 81 games and looked great for the Wild in the postseason. He has a big frame at 6-foot-2 and despite coming along slowly, it looks lion El Nino is here to stay. He is a good keeper league option and should approach 20 goals in 2014-15. As for Granlund, he returned from Sochi and put up 13 points in 17 games and is poised for a breakout season this year. The Finnish phenom is a tremendous playmaker and should easily post 40 assists and 60 points this season, a trend we will likely see continue over the next 10 years.
On the blueline, Ryan Suter is a freak. The guy almost plays half of the game every night. Last season he averaged 29:24 TOI per game, which was 2:20 more than Erik Karlsson who ranked second in the NHL. You have to be on the ice to put up points and no one is on the ice more than Suter. He has never eclipsed the 50-point mark, but was on pace for 54 in the lockout shortened year. Could this finally be the year he posts 10 goals and 50 points? We’re not betting on it, but he is as reliable as they come when you are looking for a defenseman in the middle rounds.
After Suter there is a lot of quality youth on the Wild’s back-end. Jared Spurgeon, 24, was second among D on the team in power-play time per game (2:07), points (26) and plus-minus (+15). At 5-foot-9, 168 lbs. he is under-sized but he plays a consistent two-way game and sees a lot of time on the PP which makes him a serviceable fantasy D-man. Jonas Brodin, 21, is much more highly touted than Spurgeon and will spend the majority of the season playing on the top-pair with Suter. Brodin is an excellent skater and his offensive game continues to progress. They also have 23-year-old Christian Folinwho is ready to start his NHL career. He was highly sought after coming out of UMass-Lowell last season and ended up signing a two-year deal with the Wild. He is a big-boy at 6-foot-3, 210 lbs. and has a pretty strong two-way game. We expect him to start on the Wild’s third pair but could move up and eventually find his way into fantasy relevance. Last year’s seventh overall pick Mathew Dumba will attempt to make the team out of training camp. He played 13 games with the Wild last season, before the club elected to send him back to the Western Hockey League for one more season. He is a hard hitting blueliner with a good offensive game to go with it. He had two points (1G / 1A) in his brief stint with the Wild and went on to have eight goals and 16 assists (24 points) in 26 games with the Portland Winterhawks. It is a crowded blueline, but that is a good problem to have if you are Minnesota.
The big question mark lies in goal. Josh Harding had a tremendous start to the year last season, but complications with multiple sclerosis ended his season in late December. He is expected to be healthy for training camp, but health will always be a huge concern for the 30-year-old. Niklas Backstrom does not have the scary disease that Harding does, but staying off of the injury report is equally as hard for him. He only started 21 games last season and was largely ineffective posting a 3.02 GAA and .899 SV% while only winning five games. Darcy Kuemper was a stud down the stretch for Minny, but it is hard to believe the former ECHLer is going to be the answer in net for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Look to the Draft (Ranking Wild Fantasy Players)
- Zach Parise – LW
- Thomas Vanek – LW
- Ryan Suter – D
- Mikko Koivu – C
- Jason Pominville – RW
- Mikael Granlund – C
- Josh Harding – G
- Darcy Kuemper – G
- Jared Spurgeon -D
- Nino Niederreirter -RW
Click HERE for the Wild’s potential line combinations heading into the 2014-15 season.
Season prediction: The Wild finish fifth in the Central Division but squeak into the playoffs as the second Wild Card team.
Other Season Previews: Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames,Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars,Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings,