The addition of more high end talent to the Minnesota Wild adds to their offensive output. Output that could end suddenly if an opponents decide to take liberties against them on the ice. Picture some Canuck running Zach Parise face first into the glass. Parise leaves bleeding with a broken nose and a concussion. There goes his season. In short the Wild need a legitimate tough guy or two. A player along the lines of Matt “Moose” Johnson, Todd “Fridge” Fedoruk, John Scott, and of course Derek “Boogeyman” Boogaard. Without a true heavyweight opposing instigators and cheap shot artists will feel there is little chance of retribution for their actions. Just the presence of Boogaard on the bench was often enough to keep the likes of Jordin Tootoo, Sean Avery, and Maxim Lapierre in line. The trick is find a tough guy with more than just pugilistic skills. Gone are the days when teams could carry a forward just to fight. Todays NHL demands that players not be one dimensional. The career of an enforcer is typically not a long one. While they are often some the most popular players on a team their salaries are not high. An experienced enforcer rarely commands more than $1-million dollars a year. These are guys who have realized that their chance in the NHL is directly tied to their toughness and fists. They take pride in their craft, often honing their skills with boxing training in the offseason. This season the job falls to Zenon Knopka and Matt Kassian. I don’t see anyone else on the roster or in the system stepping into the enforcer role for Minnesota.
Zenon Knopka was acquired by the wild through free agency on July 1st this past summer. Zenon has dropped the gloves 92 times in his 250 NHL games dating back to the 2005-06 season. He is the most penalized player in the league over the last three seasons with 765 total penalty minutes. Leading all players in PIM’s for 2009-10 and 2010-11. He brings plenty of grit and toughness to the Wild’s line up. He’s listed at 6′ and 209 lbs. The 32 year old Canadian born center has a left handed shot and has compiled 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) during his career with the Ducks, Blue Jackets,Islanders, and Senators. A popular player in the dressing room, you can count on his becoming a fan favorite in Minnesota. To see Zenon Knopka’s full stats click here
The second heavy weight on the Wild’s roster is Matt Kassian. The 26 year old left wing hails from Sherwood Park, Alberta Canada. He stands 6’4″ weighing in at 232 lbs. Kassain has spent the last 2 seasons going back and forth between the Wild and the AHL’s Houston Aeros. Kassian has fought a total of 9 times in the NHL and 72 times in the AHL since the 2007-8 season. Kassian doesn’t quite have the reputation of Knopka when dropping the gloves. However that is quickly changing as he connects with his huge right. Kassian’s wing span gives him a reach few in the league can match. He is bec0ming more adept at locking out opponents while getting that right arm free. It’s a short list of opponents who are willing to stand toe to toe with him and trade blows. In two partial seasons with the Minnesota Wild Matt has put up 2 points (2 goals, 0 assists) in 28 games. For Matt’s complete stats click here. Look for Kassian to pile up more fights this season as he continues to challenge the old guard of enforcers while policing the ice at the Xcel Energy Center.
In addition to Kassian 13 other players dropped the gloves for the Wild last season for a total of 42 fighting majors. Of that group only 8 had more than 1 fight. Brad Staubitz led the way with 8 bouts the rest include, Matt Kassian 9), Clayton Stoner (6), Justin Falk (4), Nick Johnson (3), Darroll Powe (3), Nate Prosser (2), Warren Peters (3).
The title for most fighting majors last season goes to the New York Rangers with 65. The lowest total went to the Detroit Red Wings with just 15. Fights are not the only means of measuring a team or enforcers toughness though. Hits rack up the bruises and are another technique use by the enforcer. The old game of you hit our stars and we’ll hit yours is played out throughout the season. Nothing like laying out the guy who crunched Mikko Koivu with a questionable hit. Often just the sight of a team’s enforcer hopping over the boards and sliding up next to you on the ice is enough to curtail any funny business. Heading into the shortened 2012-13 season Knopka and Kassian are the top two tough guys on the roster. Cal Clutterbuck brings a lot to the table with his top of the league hit totals year after year. While Cal is a gritty, tough, abrasive presence on the ice he is not much of a fighter dropping the gloves only a single time last season. Jake Dowell brings a bit of pugilistic skill to the Wild squad with a 9 bout total during the 2011-12 campaign with the Dallas Stars.
The head coach of the Minnesota wild, Mike Yeo, is well aware of the role enforcers play. In his playing career in the IHL and AHL dropped the gloves on many occasions. To this day Mike Yeo is the career fighting major leader for the Houston Aeros with 49 fights in 259 games over 5 seasons. This year with a short 48 game season the role of the enforcer will be more crucial than ever. Having top offensive or defensive players knocked out of the lineup by opposing players taking liberties is not acceptable. Knopka and Kassian need to send a message to every team in the league that trouble makers and instigators will be dealt with swiftly and forcefully. Intimidation goes a long way in keeping opponents in line. Konopka and Kassian should be up to the task of protecting the likes of Parise, Koivu, Bouchard, Heatley and others.
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