If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, we’ve saved the best for last, as that team just so happens to be your very own Minnesota Wild. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down the Wild’s major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook as we get you caught up on what you need to know before the puck officially drops on the regular season.
If you checked out today’s Wilderness Walk with our good friends over at Hockey Wilderness this morning, then you know that we have just one more sleep until an official Minnesota Wild game! Tomorrow night, a lineup of veterans and young guns will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Xcel Energy Center. If you can make it, I highly suggest you do so. In addition, as the preseason begins, so do the game previews and recaps by Gone Puck Wild’s Game Day Correspondent, our good Mr. Scott Drain.
Finally (and then I’ll get to the point of this article, I promise), be sure to tune in to Fox Sports North tonight at 10:30 for the first episode in the third chapter of “Becoming Wild”. So, as Scott would say–though there’s fewer late games with the new realignment this season–put on the coffee and let’s go Wild!
Okay, now where was I? Oh, yes–the new additions to Minnesota’s lineup. After making the playoffs for the first time in five years only to be knocked out in the first round by the best team in the league, the Minnesota Wild made some interesting changes to their lineup. The team lost four top-9 forwards and an arguable top-4 defenseman, and couldn’t buy out their most expendable piece of cap space, Dany Heatley, due to an injury. We’ll get to these roster subtractions tomorrow, but who took their place in the lineup?
In a couple somewhat surprising moves, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher would make a draft day trade for 2010 5th overall pick Nino Niederreiter, sign top NHL agitator–or goon, whichever you prefer–Matt Cooke and retool the blue line with talented NHL vet and Minnesota native Keith Ballard and 2007 Predators first rounder Jonathon Blum.
If this article is all you’re going off of, do the math and you’ll realize that’s still not enough to fill the holes still left in the lineup. Cooke is quickly proving in training camp he was signed for more than just his physical on-ice presence. Having worked with him in the Pittsburgh organization, both Fletcher and Wild head coach Mike Yeo are quite high on what Cooke brings to the table. He’s a proven workhorse and regular season and playoff performer, top-notch penalty killer, keeps opposing players on their toes and has a knack for scoring key goals in key moments as we saw in yesterday’s scrimmage at the “X”.
Paired with Kyle Brodziak and Torrey Mitchell, Cooke makes Minnesota’s third line among the deadliest and most intriguing in the league. Simply put, it’s guys like him that enable a team to roll four lines, and that’s what Yeo is banking on. It’s what made Chicago the deadliest team in the league last season. You have to have depth.
Speaking of depth, Minnesota has four very high-ceiling young forwards fighting for two or so open spots in the lineup–Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Niederreiter. Zucker brings the speed and tantalizing goal scorer’s touch, Granlund, the unbelievable playmaking skills, and Charlie and Nino, the big-bodied size of true NHL power forwards with the scoring touch of seasoned snipers. If you’re coach Yeo, this is a really good problem to have, and the one or two that don’t make the team out of camp will be given top minutes in Des Moines.
Still on the topic of “depth”, Minnesota’s blue line has nothing but depth. Behind the top pairing of Norris runner-up Ryan Suter and All-Rookie Jonas Brodin, is the small, yet very talented, Jared Spurgeon, Ballard, Blum, Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser and surging NHL top-4 defensemen-in-waiting, Marco Scandella and Mathew Dumba. Semi-to-fulltime roster regulars the past few seasons, Stoner and Prosser may be out of a job depending on how well Blum, Scandella and Dumba perform in the six upcoming preseason games. With Dumba’s overall strong play in training camp so far, and Scandella’s coming of age in last spring’s playoff matchup against Chicago, both young blue liners will be given every shot to make Minnesota’s lineup upon the conclusion of camp.
Minnesota’s roster isn’t the only thing that’s going to look quite different this season. Coach Yeo has emphasized his team’s transition to a dominating puck-possession style of play catered around the talents and abilities of what has the makings of being the best roster in Wild history. Gone are the days of just Marian Gaborik, Mikko Koivu and Pavol Demitra (God rest his soul). These are the days of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter and young guns Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter. I’ll take that any day of the week.