The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we preview the Minnesota Wild.
Minnesota Wild 2019-20 Rewind
Record: 35-27-7 (78 points); sixth in the Central Division; 10th in the Western Conference.
Some believed that the Minnesota Wild should have tanked in 2019-20. Generally speaking, they did not, but last season ended up being a mixed bag anyway.
At minimum, there were big changes up top. Stunningly, the Wild fired Paul Fenton in favor of Bill Guerin during the 2019 offseason, even though Fenton was only GM for one turbulent season. (You might say that Fenton’s term lasted only slightly longer than the whip of a lizard’s tongue.)
Despite changing GMs, the Wild still seemed content to compete as much as possible last season, rather than embrace a rebuild. For the most part, the drastic changes happened in-house. While Bruce Boudreau survived the GM change, he didn’t make it through the 2019-20 season; eventually, Dean Evason went from interim to full-time head coach.
Amid all of that front office turnover, the Wild found themselves in a familiar place: the playoff bubble. They performed well enough to enter the NHL’s odd Qualifying Round, yet the Canucks bounced them unceremoniously after four games.
Sure, you can take some good things from the past season. After showing flashes of brilliance, Kevin Fiala enjoyed a breakout year. Especially right before the pandemic pause. Jared Spurgeon stood out on a defense that probably deserved more credit. And Zach Parise quietly plugged along as a player who probably gets defined too often by his contract. (Fascinatingly, his career Devils vs. Wild stats are remarkably similar. At least from a goals and assists standpoint. [His all-around game did fall off over the years.])
Aside from trading Jason Zucker in February, Bill Guerin mainly put his stamp on the Wild during this offseason. While there was a head-scratching move every now and then, quite a few of them made sense. Amusingly enough, some real optimism came from drafting Marco Rossi, even without tanking.
Now, will this translate to the Minnesota Wild bursting through the playoff bubble? If not now, then down the line? That’s tough to tell.
3 Most Interesting Minnesota Wild
In recent NHL history, there have been hot prospects who took oh-so-long to leave Russia. Sometimes, it really only felt like they were overseas forever. In other cases, it started to feel like people were awaiting the arrival of a ghost. Was this would-be star actually a fictional character?
Could the same be true of Kirill Kaprizov? He’s one of the true wild cards of the 2020-21 season. If he’s fine, that’s a nice boost for the Wild. If Kaprizov can be mind-blowingly good off the bat, then the Wild’s ceiling could be higher than expected.
At minimum, hopefully we see moves like these in actual NHL games, not just training camps and practices:
Jeez, Kirill, Jared has an adorable tiny family, why would you do this to him? https://t.co/PC0hFTWGdS
— Tony of the USS 10KRinks.com (@OhHiTony) January 7, 2021
• Cam Talbot
Kaprizov isn’t the only wild card for the, um, Wild. He’s one of the most exciting ones, though.
Generally speaking, there’s less sizzle to incrementally improving goaltending, but the steak might yield key results for the Wild. Simply put, Devan Dubnyk was a disaster last season. As in, he played a key (involuntary) role in getting Bruce Boudreau fired. With Dubnyk floundering, the Wild had to ask a little too much of Alex Stalock.
Cam Talbot didn’t look otherworldly for the Flames. If he did, they probably would have kept him, rather than splurging for Jacob Markstrom.
But Talbot was solid. If the Wild maintain their strong defense, then a solid goalie could make them a tougher out. (Kaprizov has a better chance of making them more interesting on-ice, though.)
• Marco Rossi
Picking someone like Rossi is tricky because of the key question. Will Marco Rossi be an interesting player on the Wild? Could he bounce between levels, not quite sticking with the big club?
To many draft knowers, the Wild got quite a gem by picking Rossi ninth overall. Ideally, Rossi can serve as the sort of game-breaker the Wild desperately need. You can bet Minnesota fans daydream about Rossi and Kaprizov creating magic for years to come.
But the Wild need to handle this situation properly.
There’s a risk in rushing him to the NHL. With COVID presenting added variables, there’s the chance of extra development disruptions. (Even under normal circumstances, these things can sometimes get derailed.) It’s not the greatest sign to see Rossi listed as one of the biggest disappointments from the World Juniors via Corey Pronman’s poll of scouts (sub required), either.
Actually, Rossi will be an interesting player to watch, whether he sticks with the Wild or not.
Again, the Wild were a stout defensive team in 2019-20, one derailed in part by shabby goaltending. The hope is that their netminding can rise to at least a solid level. From there, maybe the Wild added just enough offensive flair to make this a viable team at scoring, too? Fighting for a division title would be a nice jump from years of slugging it out for a playoff spot.
The Wild probably could have kept Koivu and Staal around at a low cost. It’s understandable that they wanted to keep spots open for younger players, but it’s not certain that they’ll be a better team in 2020-21. Being stuck in puck purgatory while enduring disappointing seasons from Kaprizov and Rossi would dampen much of the optimism surrounding this team. What if they look back in a year or two and realize that they truly needed to blow things up and rebuild?
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