John Shipley: Wild find positive narrative during season’s longest road trip

After a 4-2 loss to Winnipeg on April 6, the Wild embarked for Chicago to start a five-game, eight-day road trip. They returned with three wins but were officially eliminated from the postseason in a 5-2 loss last Tuesday at Colorado.

That doesn’t mean the Wild came home empty-handed.

Minnesota will play its season finale on Thursday against the Seattle Kraken at Xcel Energy Center with a narrative, a positive one, that will take them through a long offseason — just their second in 12 years without a postseason appearance.

Promising rookies.

Already bolstered by strong seasons from Brock Faber and Marco Rossi, the Wild got big points on their longest road trip from less-seasoned rookies Declan Chisholm, Marat Khusnutdinov and Liam Ohgren. It’s a promising development for a team that will still be saddled with $14.7 million in dead salary cap space next season.

Perhaps as important, the team’s perpetually disappointed fan base — the Wild haven’t won a playoff series since 2015 — has something positive to hang onto until training camp begins in late September. Rather than cynically stew all summer over the failure of a roster top-heavy with veterans under long-term deals, Wild fans can at least wonder whether rookies will be able to provide at least some of the secondary scoring the team has lacked all season.

Faber will essentially be one of two finalists for the Calder Trophy, battling Chicago forward Connor Bedard, and Rossi’s 21 goals rank behind only Bedard’s 22 this season. On a trip that started with a 4-0 victory at Chicago and ended with a 3-1 victory over the Kings in Los Angeles on Monday, Faber, Rossi, Chisholm, Khusnutdinov and Ohgren combined for four goals and 14 points.

Average age, 21.6 years, big news for a team in desperate need of secondary scoring.

“For sure, it’s good for the young guys to come in (at) 20-, 21-years-old and score goals, score points,” said leading scorer Kirill Kaprizov, entering his 26. “Those guys play hard, smart and try to win battles. It’s been pretty good for them.”

Through 81 games, Kaprizov (45 goals), Joel Eriksson Ek (30) and Matt Boldy (29) have accounted for a whopping 42 percent of the Wild’s goal-scoring.

Mats Zuccarello leads the team with 51 assists but has 11 goals, his lowest scoring production in a season with at least 50 games played since 2012-13. Rossi and Ryan Hartman each have 21 goals, but beyond that it’s rough.

The other forwards who have played at least 20 games have combined for 34 goals in a combined 303 games.

Of that group, Marcus Johansson has 11 goals in 77 games after scoring six in 20 games after being acquired at the trade deadline in 2022-23, and Freddy Gaudreau has five goals and 15 points in 66 games. Marcus Foligno, a locker-room leader who was solid defensively in 55 games before season-ending surgery, scored only 10 goals.

Those three are under contract for next season, and Foligno and Gaudreau are signed through 2027-28. Both struggled with injuries this season, but their production was a disappointment.

It will take more than rookies to turn the tide next season, and with little available money or trade assets, general manager Bill Guerin has few options to add veteran scoring. The Wild need more from the guys already here, and the rookies that make the roster next fall.

Rookie Gains

During the Wild’s just-completed, five-game road trip — the longest of the season — the team got promising production from a handful of rookies it likely will count on next season:

Player/age G A Pts.
Brock Faber, 21 0 4 4
Marat Khusnutdinov, 21 1 2 3
Marco Rossi, 21 1 2 3
Declan Chisholm, 24 1 1 2
Liam Ohgren, 20 1 1 2

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