Happy Hockey-tober, readers! It’s finally here–the first night of regular season NHL hockey across the league. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Wild and its fans will have to wait until Thursday night before officially dropping the puck on the season.
We’ve seen some interesting roster moves by the team. While it’s really no surprise Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter are all up with the big team, it is surprising Jason Zucker will start the season in Iowa. And Head Coach Mike Yeo isn’t the only one excited Zucker’s there in the wings to push the guys currently with the big club. It’s huge knowing a kid with that much talent is in the minors ready to take your spot if you can’t perform. With that in mind, expect some strong performances particularly from the young guns that have made the lineup.
With Zucker not long for the AHL, fans in Iowa should expect a big year from 2011 28th overall pick Zack Phillips. After scoring 84 goals and 135 assists for 219 points and a plus-117 rating in 192 games in three season with Saint John of the QMJHL, Phillips turned pro last year, scoring eight goals and 19 assists for 27 points and a negative-11 rating in 71 games with the Houston Aeros. He struggled early in the year, but seemed to gain some confidence in a more prominent role after the call-ups of Zucker, Coyle and Granlund, and the departure of Johan Larsson in the Jason Pominville trade. A top-6 role in Iowa should give him the needed room and ice-time to succeed. There’s a reason he was a first round selection, and fans in Des Moines will likely see just why as he plays his sophomore campaign this fall.
There is a lot to be excited about this year. Minnesota has a full year of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Pominville on the top line. The top defensive pairing of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin only looks to get better, and it’s not unreasonable for both to put up Norris-worthy seasons after developing such a surprising chemistry and defensive dominance last year. The young guns have last season under their belts, and look much more prepared this year as a result. If the preseason is any indicator, Coyle is poised for a breakout season skating on a line with snipers Dany Heatley and newly acquired Nino Niederreiter. This second line of size, skill and scoring ability could give goalies nightmares on a nightly basis.
Best of all, Mikael Granlund has looked as originally advertised during this camp and preseason. The biggest knock on Granlund last year was his size and skating. The kid had excelled on the larger European rinks, which allowed him to have a bit more time to see what was in front of him and make the flashy play. As a result, he struggled mightily last season on the smaller North American NHL rinks.
This year, he’s looking bigger, stronger and much faster on the ice. What’s more, he’s no longer a defensive liability and has been winning face-offs, however, he’ll start the season adding an offensive threat to the third line of Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak. Perhaps having two physical guys like Cooke and Brodzy on his line will give him some room to work his magic in the offensive zone. Think Wayne Gretzky with Marty McSorley and Dave Semenko. While not nearly as talented a player as Gretzky, a similar line does create some possibilities for Granlund and the Wild.
The cards are in place for a very interesting season. Are you excited? Good. Now all you have to do is wait two more days. Aaand go!
Follow Dakota Case at Twitter.com/Dakota_case