COMMENTARY | In the middle of January, injuries to Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu led to the discovery that Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, and Jason Zucker made up a pretty solid line combination for the Minnesota Wild. Upon Parise's return a few weeks later, we've discovered that Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund -- a stellar combination no matter who they are paired with -- bring out the best in Parise and vice versa.
The dynamics of the Heatley-Coyle-Zucker and Parise-Granlund-Pominville lines are different, of course. Coyle, who has spent significant time playing with Parise and Koivu on the top line, clicked with Heatley and Zucker -- two players that were having trouble finding a fit on the team. Heatley, 33, appeared to be past his prime (and a waste of a $7.5 million cap hit) and Zucker, 22, had been on the bus between St. Paul and the Wild's minor league affiliate in Des Moines so often that fans were calling Interstate 35 I-16. But when head coach Mike Yeo put the three together, suddenly Heatley showed flashes of the goal scorer he once was and Zucker appeared to solidify himself as a bona fide two-way player.
On the other hand, everyone in Minnesota knows that Parise is a two-way star and that Pominville and Granlund are a dynamic pairing. While the original thought was Parise and Pominville were going to be paired with Koivu -- two former captains on the wing of the current team captain -- it's Granlund, who some considered a bust a year ago, who has had the most chemistry with Pominville. When placed with the former Buffalo Sabres captain, Granlund has not only justified his position as the No. 9 overall selection in 2010, but also appeared to have cemented his role as the second-line center.
That was until Thursday's game in Denver.
Down 4-1 to the Colorado Avalanche in the third period, Yeo placed Parise with Pominville and Granlund. Parise had previously been playing with Coyle, who he has established chemistry with, and Nino Niederreiter -- a 21-year-old player that is projected to be a superstar in the NHL. The Parise-Granlund-Pominville line clicked immediately and produced tangible results on the scoreboard: Parise scored at 7:47, Granlund scored at 12:51, and Pominville found the back of the net at 17:46.
Unfortunately, by the time Pominville netted his goal, Nathan MacKinnon, the No. 1 overall selection in last year's draft, had scored to put Colorado ahead 5-3, but that Parise-Granlund-Pominville line had kick started a comeback for the Wild, who at the beginning of the period looked dead in the water.
As it stands, the Wild have two strong lines: Parise-Granlund-Pominville and Heatley-Coyle-Zucker. The question, really, is what to do with the second line -- or, more pertinently, what to with Niederreiter -- when Koivu arrives. Yeo probably will switch lines to create a boost for his team in a game where they need a kick in the rear, but jumbling the lines too frequently may mess with chemistry -- remember the old adage: "If it's not broken, don't fix it" -- so it would be ideal if he could keep the Parise-Granlund-Pominville and Heatley-Coyle-Zucker lines together.
In a perfect world, Koivu would come back and bring out the best in Niederreiter. When he was drafted No. 5 overall in 2010, Niederreiter was projected to be a franchise player. He struggled as New York Islander, but has adapted well to a change in scenery. The opportunity to play with a world-class playmaker in Koivu could allow him to have a surge after the Olympics.
It would also be nice if Justin Fontaine, a 26-year-old rookie, was a fit with those guys. The former Duluth Bulldog has 12 goals this year, a total higher than everyone except Pominville and Parise, and deserves to be considered for a role on a scoring line.
By separating Parise and Koivu, the question of which line is the top line will inevitably be asked, but in reality this team is best served by scoring by committee. As of Friday, Pominville has 22 goals this year and Parise has 18, but everyone else under 10. Matt Cooke, for instance, has about as many goals (8) as Heatley and Niederreiter (9). As time goes on, it's not hard to imagine that players like Coyle, Niederreiter, and Zucker will improve upon their totals, but for right now everyone has to chip in to improve the fifth-worst offense in the game.
In essence, the Wild may not have a formal "top line," but if Koivu can get Niederreiter going and Yeo is allowed to keep two lines with strong chemistry going, nobody in the State of Hockey is going to complain.
Tom Schreier writes about the Twins, Wild, and Wolves for Yahoo Contributor Network. He previously covered Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and can be heard on 105 The Ticket in the Twin Cities. Followed him on Twitter @tschreier3.
- Sports & Recreation
- Zach Parise
- Dany Heatley
- Mikko Koivu
- Jason Pominville
- Mikael Granlund
- Minnesota Wild
- Charlie Coyle
- Jason Zucker