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.
As we discussed yesterday, Minnesota does look different with the acquisitions of Matt Cooke, Nino Niederreiter, Keith Ballard and Jonathon Blum. However, the names not on the list for roster spots may be even more telling of the possible struggles the team will have to endure this season. Big names are missing from last year’s playoff team, including top-9 forwards Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck, and defenseman Tom Gilbert. In addition to the man acquired in the Nick Schultz trade two seasons ago (Gilbert), Brett Clark and Justin Falk are also missing from the blue line.
Minnesota would ship off Falk, Clutterbuck and Setoguchi to the Rangers, Islanders and Jets, respectively, for a combined package of an expiring contract (Benn Ferriero), former 5th overall pick (Niederreiter, 2010) and a seventh and second round pick. Free agency hit, and the Wild decided locking up their franchise No. 1 goalie, and signing a replacement for Clutterbuck (Cooke), was more important than re-signing second line center Matt Cullen to a new deal.
That said, Cullen would sign with Nashville, and Bouchard–who the Wild had no intention whatsoever of re-signing–would rejoin Clutter on Long Island. Clark walked and Gilbert would become victim of an amnesty buyout due to Dany Heatley’s injury preventing Minnesota from using one on him. As of this writing, Clark is still a free agent and Gilbert has just been offered a pro tryout agreement with the Florida Panthers. There’s no question he would still be in a Wild sweater if Heater had been healthy at the end of the season.
Here’s where the issue is. Out of the team’s top-10 point scorers last season, four are gone, including Minnesota’s 2012-13 second-leading goal scorer (Devin Setoguchi with 13). In their careers, these four–Seto, Cully, Butch and Gilbert–have combined for 460 goals and 847 assists for a whopping 1,307 points. To say that’s a lot of veteran experience and point scoring potential missing from the lineup is an understatement, and we haven’t even included Clutterbuck in these figures.
As you can see, Minnesota has a huge hole to fill when it comes to secondary scoring. They’ll look for a dominating performance from a Zucker, Coyle, Granlund or Niederreiter tonight against Columbus as the young guns have a chance to put on a display in their first game of preseason action. The Wild’s 2012 7th overall pick, Mathew Dumba, will also be given top minutes tonight with Ballard on the first pairing as the superbly talented 19-year old defensemen makes his case for a permanent roster spot. A dynamic, hard-hitting, two-way puck moving offensive defenseman, Dumba has a tremendously high ceiling and is a guy that Minnesota will be counting on to log a lot of minutes and put up big numbers in the not-too-distant future.
The question may come down to this–are these kids, however talented they may be, able to step in and fill the void left by these key departures? After making the playoffs for the first time in five years last season, does the success of the team rest on the shoulders of its young guns this year? Is Minnesota back to just treading water? The answer will be revealed in time, but it’s something that the Wild and their fans have every reason to be concerned about.