There has been plenty of action on the Minnesota Wild rookies and prospects front as of late; Mikael Granlund was sent back to the Houston Aeros after being a healthy scratch from the Wild’s lineup in four of the last eight games prior to tonight’s matchup with Anaheim. Matt Hackett came the opposite direction, backing up Niklas Backstrom after Darcy Kuemper strained a groin muscle.
The Wild have been leaning on Jonas Brodin, and the young defender is thriving under the pressure so far. His 22 minutes per game over the last five (prior to Anaheim) are absolutely out of this world for a 19-year-old, the youngest blue liner in the league. His steady presence next to vet Ryan Suter has been a huge boon for the team.
Charlie Coyle has also shown that he can hang with the Wild. Coyle’s staying power has a lot to do with his attitude – he’s proven to head coach Mike Yeo that he can fill whatever role needs filling, whether that be providing a physical presence on the first line with skill players Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, or jumping in with the fourth line’s furious forecheck.
Coyle really put his talents on display Sunday against Vancouver, making a spectacular play to fight off Canucks defenders and set up linemate Parise for a goal to put the game out of reach. Since then, everyone has been buzzing about the recently turned 21-year-old’s potential as a power forward.
Not only can he be a power forward, but Coyle is a bolster to the Wild’s mentality right now. His locker room interviews show he’s got his head in the right place – know the system, play the system. Not only that, but he’s got his linemates and his coach buzzing about him. Being able to depend on Coyle as a rookie is lending to the Wild’s uber-confident play lately.
Jason Zucker is also providing a spark off the Wild bench, skating with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi. I think Yeo has found some chemistry between these three, as the line has really heated up in the past couple games. It was a shame to see him taken out of the game on a late Corey Perry hit. Eager to see if a Shannaban follows, but not likely, I think.
Zucker has had a few moments in games past that made me cringe, namely on stickhandling giveaways in the neutral zone. One such mishandle against Chicago last week led to turnover and a blue line breakaway for Patrick Sharp, but Kuemper bailed him out. Since then, though, and particularly in the game Vancouver and early in the Anaheim game, Zucker has moved the puck with a lot more awareness. He’s valuing his touches and getting his head up. Let’s hope there’s no lasting damage from the Perry incident.
All in all, the young skaters have been paying dividends for the Wild, drawing attention again and again to what has been called the league’s best pipeline (Hockey Wilderness has a nice piece here). The rookies are feeling the Wild’s surge right now and are contributing energy and eagerness to what has become a very confident Minnesota team.
Really, enough can’t be said about Brodin’s contributions to this team. When he got tangled and piled into the boards on a routine icing touch-up on Sunday, it felt like the 18,000+ fans in the building suddenly gasped with the realization that the team simply cannot play the same hockey without Brodin in the lineup.
The same can’t be said about Granlund right now, but that’s simply saying right now. The office’s main concern is getting him playing time and development, and being scratched in half of the Wild’s games is not a means to those ends. Granlund will be an integral part of this organization when the time comes – no one is doubting that – but right now he needs first-line time in Houston and to find his confidence, before returning to compliment the Wild.
As the NHL is coming to realize, when the Wild youngsters start to contribute, the Wild get hot. And when the Wild are hot, no team is safe. It was a downturn in Minny’s luck against the Ducks, losing Zucker from the game and seeing Sbisa and Maroon score their first and second goals of the season, respectively. Here’s to hoping the young legs can help the Wild bounce back.