The Minnesota Wild wasted little time getting back to practice after collecting another two points in the standings from the Eastern Conference’s New York Rangers last night.
With the new arrivals from the trade deadline still looking to find chemistry with the team, the Wild will need every practice opportunity it can get with 16 games to be played in the final 30 days of the team’s regular season. While there seems to be no shortage of players that don’t have any trouble finding chemistry with top line center Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu just has the worst time clicking with players not named Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen. Finally, with a true goal scorer on his left (Matt Moulson), and another on his right (Nino Niederreiter), it’s to be hoped that changes for the Wild’s captain and soon.
Though Niederreiter started out last night’s game to the right of third line center Kyle Brodziak, he was eventually swapped with Charlie Coyle on the second line in the hope that lightning would strike. It’s too soon to say if it will or will not, but, to head coach Mike Yeo, it’s worth another look. In 66 games this season, Niederreiter has scored 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 points and a forward corps best plus-11 rating while playing in just about every possible role you can imagine. The kid can be whatever his coach needs–a grinder, a power forward, a responsible two-way player, a playmaker, a dangler and a sniper. It’s that flexibility that makes him so effective every time he hops the boards.
That said, Coyle finds himself skating (for now) on the right side of Brodziak on the third line. After a promising rookie season and 2013-14 preseason, Coyle was expected to slot in immediately as second line center with Granlund and Jason Zucker waiting to be recalled in Des Moines. While Zucker was sent back, Granlund was not, and an injury to Coyle in the second game of the season would crown Granlund as No. 2 center. Now, Granlund’s exceptional play this season has him skating as top line pivot between Zach Parise and Jason Pominville. To unseat Coyle was one thing, but Koivu? That’s impressive for the sophomore skater. Coyle, in the meantime, is in the perfect place to refocus and get himself back on track, because he’s really not that far off in the first place. In 54 games this season, Coyle has seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points and a negative-8 rating. It’s not great, but he’s shown plenty of good signs that he’s going in the right direction.
On the back end, Minnesota is looking to decrease Ryan Suter’s ice time, and he isn’t happy about it. In 66 games this season, the Wild alternate captain leads all defensemen in scoring with six goals and 29 assists for 35 points and a plus-5 rating. He leads all NHL skaters in ice time per game with an average of 29:55–just shy of half a game per night. However, if the team’s going to go far in the playoffs, it’ll need a healthy No. 1 defenseman. There’s no question coaching staff will be monitoring Suter’s ice time closely.
Finally, the news on Josh Harding just seems to get better and better. Though he is still far, far away from a return, the fact that the NHL’s leader in goals against average is once again strapping on the pads and participating in puck handling drills can only be taken as a good indicator of how well he’s feeling now. We haven’t seen the last of Harding, not by a long shot.