It’s August 3rd, meaning we’re 61 days away from officially dropping the puck in Minnesota. In the meantime, there are still a lot (and I mean a LOT) of questions to be answered regarding the Wild lineup. With Cal Clutterbuck and Devin Setoguchi shipped elsewhere, and the departures of Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard in free agency, there is a lot of concern as to what the team’s top three lines might look like come October 3rd’s home opener against the Los Angeles Kings. The solution to the problem most likely will come in four superbly talented youngsters–Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and newly acquired 2010 5th overall pick Nino Niederreiter.
To most Minnesota Wild fans, Coyle, Zucker and even Granlund are known quantities. Coyle has a few options available to him, depending on where Granlund and Niederreiter fit in, of course. He could very well be back on the top line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, where he had considerable success last season as a rookie. However, with Cullen gone, and the questions surrounding 2010 9th overall pick Granlund, he could just as easily find himself as second line pivot or to the right of Granlund on the wing.
Like Coyle, Zucker has to almost be considered a lock at this point, but nothing will be given to him, that’s for certain. A speedy and electrifying left winger, Zucker is nothing short of a Parise mini-me–a hard-working player in both ends and a hound on the puck with a nose for the net–and is almost certain to be second line left wing. Paired with a dangerous playmaker like Granlund, Zucker has the potential to give goaltenders nightmares for many years to come.
Mikael Granlund. What can you say about the kid that hasn’t been said already? After a relatively disappointing rookie campaign, he has to put it behind him and keep moving forward and improving upon his game. The Finnish Phenom showed several flashes of brilliance last season and does look like he’ll be a great NHL top-6 forward for a long time if he can just get a little more acclimated to the speed of the North American game. While he did develop incredible chemistry in the AHL last season with Zucker and Coyle, perhaps playing with a seasoned veteran like Jason Pominville on his wing may lend a calming presence and help slow down the game for him.
Nino Niederreiter has the misfortune of being compared to Cal Clutterbuck for the rest of his Wild career, simply because that’s the guy who was traded in return. However, he isn’t that kind of player, or at least his ceiling is projected to be much higher than the man with one of the greatest names (and mustaches) in sports. While Clutter will be missed, this trade was a no-brainer for Minnesota as it brought in a player the team originally wanted to draft in the first place, and also has the potential to score 20-30 goals a season. The beautiful thing about Nino is that his 6’2″ 205-pound body brings size to the lineup that will help compensate for the smaller frames of Zucker and Granlund.
The big “Wild” card in this has to be Niederreiter. After not be recalled by the Isles after the lockout, Niederreiter played the whole 2012-13 season in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, notching 28 goals and 22 assists for 50 points and a negative-5 rating in 74 games. His impressive performance earned him an AHL All-Star selection along with (now) fellow Wild prospect Jason Zucker. Nino was also a dominating force for Switzerland in the 2013 Men’s World Championships, leading the Swiss to the silver medal with five goals and three assists for eight points and a plus-3 rating in 10 games. Yeah–this kid’s pretty good.
The Minnesota Wild may have a young team, and it may be an interesting year next season, but it’s brimming with promise and potential. It’s time for the young guns to step up and claim their place in the next chapter of Wild history. Wild fans will be right there cheering them on.