COMMENTARY | The silver lining in the Minnesota Wild's most recent rash of injuries is that they may have found their third line.
Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, and Jason Zucker have some chemistry going and it's as a result of an injury-depleted lineup. If Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise were not out with foot injuries, Coyle would likely be playing on their line. Heatley was toiling on the fourth line looking like a waste of $7.5 million cap space before teaming up with Coyle, and Zucker was riding the bus back and forth between Des Moines, unsure of if he was going to be in the NHL or the minor leagues on any given night.
Now the three have solidified a line that will add both scoring depth and defense when Koivu and Parise return from injury. Coyle and Heatley have size, while Zucker provides speed and tenacity. Coyle is a center, so he will be returning to his natural position where he can set up Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer with the Ottawa Senators.
Heatley is exiting his prime, but the former Atlanta Thrasher has something to teach two sophomore players that have promising futures. Knowing that he is no longer the prolific scorer he once was, Heatley has become a two-way player with size that can create havoc in front of the net. For a player like Coyle, it is important for him to see how he can use his body to screen goaltenders and score garbage goals in the NHL. In Zucker's case, he gets to see how to use his defense to create offensive opportunities on the other end of the rink.
So when Parise and Koivu return, who will join them on their line?
Justin Fontaine makes the most sense there. He has already played with Parise and Koivu this season and has played well enough to deserve another shot on the first line. Fontaine's 11 goals places him ahead of Nino Niederreiter and Coyle in that category. Furthermore, Parise and Koivu have experience playing with a younger player on their line, as evidenced by the success of Coyle on the first line both this season and last year.
It was initially thought that when the Wild traded for Jason Pominville, the former Buffalo Sabres captain and two-time 30-goal scorer would join Parise and Koivu, effectively placing three captains on the first line (Koivu is the current Wild captain and Parise wore the 'C' for the New Jersey Devils before signing with Minnesota). A big reason why Pominville leads the Wild in goal scoring, however, has been his chemistry with Mikael Granlund, a playmaker, and Niederreiter on the second line.
Pominville helped elevate the games of both Granlund and Niederreiter, two skaters that are expected to be franchise players in Minnesota, and Coyle should help do the same for Heatley and Zucker, who looked like borderline minor league players before he teamed up with them. That's not to say that Pominville and Coyle haven't benefitted from playing with their linemates, they have, and that's a good thing.
All year long, head coach Mike Yeo has had trouble getting the most out of his talented squad. Minnesota has been offensively anemic, scoring less than 2.5 goals per game, and that trend has to stop.
When Parise and Koivu return from injury, top three lines should be as follows: Parise-Koivu-Fontaine, Pominville-Granlund-Niederreiter, and Heatley-Coyle-Zucker. Not only should they receive scoring from the top two lines, but Heatley, Coyle, and Zucker should chip in pretty regularly while also providing defense.
The Wild may have solved the scoring riddle while discovering a silver lining in all their recent injuries.
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
- Ice Hockey
- Zach Parise
- Dany Heatley
- Mikko Koivu
- Charlie Coyle
- Jason Zucker
- Minnesota Wild