With five games to go in the regular season, Minnesota Wild fans have their eyes glued to the standings as their team makes the final push for what could potentially be their first playoff run in five seasons. After four long years, the Wild can finally ice a legitimate playoff contender. What’s changed in those four years?
Minnesota has gone from Marian Gaborik, an up-and-coming Mikko Koivu and Co. to Koivu, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Dany Heatley, Jason Pominville, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Co. This team finally has legitimate star power up and down the lineup. Even with Heatley sidelined for the rest of the season, Pominville, Parise, Koivu, Suter, Cullen and Setoguchi make for a very deep team when paired with important secondary players like Kyle Brodziak, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Jared Spurgeon and Tom Gilbert. Then there’s former Vezina finalist Niklas Backstrom, the best goaltender in franchise history, who just so happens to be quietly piecing together the best season of his NHL career.
Those same stars all bring valuable playoff experience. Parise captained the New Jersey Devils to within two wins of the Stanley Cup last season. Suter and the Nashville Predators have made the playoffs four of the last five seasons. Heatley and Setoguchi have both been to the playoffs on numerous occasions. Pominville reached the playoffs a few times with the Buffalo Sabres and Cullen won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Talent and skill are good, but it’s very important to have players on your team with valuable playoff experience and veteran leadership. The regular season is tough, but that’s nothing compared to the grind of the playoffs. The playoffs are a different season entirely, and it’s important to have guys on your roster that are familiar with, and even used, to the intensity that comes with it.
This team is filled to the brim with grit and physicality. Cal Clutterbuck, Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk an even Nate Prosser bring a physical brand of hockey every time they hit the ice. Whether it’s laying a big hit or dropping the gloves, there’s always someone ready to stand up and protect their teammates. Even rookie Charlie Coyle brings a dominating physical element to Minnesota’s top line.
For the first time in team history, the Minnesota Wild not only has star power, veteran leadership and grit, but promising rookie talent in the lineup, as well. Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund will all be vital pieces of the future for Minnesota’s forward corps, while defenseman Jonas Brodin will undoubtedly be a perennial Norris Trophy contender within the next few years. Then there’s giant 6’5” 207-pound goaltender Darcy Kuemper—who has the potential to be the future franchise netminder with Matt Hackett shipped off to Buffalo. In the meantime, he has no problem being starter Niklas Backstrom’s backup in Josh Harding’s absence.
Even with those five guys up with the big club, the prospect pool is still filled with enough potential star power to make it one of the best in the NHL. Another season could see the NHL debuts of first rounders Mathew Dumba and Zack Phillips.
Minnesota has the perfect recipe for making the playoffs, and a road win tonight against the San Jose Sharks would go a long way in making the postseason a reality. If Minnesota makes the playoffs, don’t expect them to make a very deep run. However, any playoff experience will only benefit this team as they look to make an even deeper run next season with a more experienced squad. With the added experience, the Minnesota Wild could be a very dangerous contender for many years to come.