The Minnesota Wild stood a good chance of winning a playoff series against Colorado–that is, until Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy and the Avalanche selected Nathan MacKinnon with the top selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
In two games against the Wild, MacKinnon has a goal and six assists for seven points while having a hand in all but two of Colorado’s postseason goals. This coming after a Calder worthy regular season total of 24 goals, 63 points and a plus-20 rating. No one doubted MacKinnon was the real deal, but I don’t think anyone thought he would be this good this soon.
After several mediocre seasons and three top-3 picks in the past five years, the Avalanche are finally close to being an elite team if they aren’t already. They have goaltending, a solid if unspectacular defense and a great supporting cast of players on both sides of the puck. The thing that sets them apart from Minnesota, however, is raw, unfiltered superstar talent. MacKinnon brings that to the table.
Last night, Minnesota played a solid game. They were physical, they weren’t terrible defensively and they created a lot of offensive chances. Two things they couldn’t do, though, was beat goaltender Semyon Varlamov and shut down the trio of MacKinnon, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog and Game One overtime hero Paul Stastny.
The Wild defense gave MacKinnon too much respect and room to work, as was evident in the sequence leading to the 18-year old’s first career NHL playoff goal to tie the game at one early in the game. Then, when they did limit his work space, he found his linemates. A drop pass to Landeskog on Colorado’s second goal, a chip to Stastny who made a behind-the-back pass to Landy for the Avs’ third goal–he even assisted on Stastny’s empty-netter. If it wasn’t for the arrival of Wild rookie netminder Darcy Kuemper, it could have been even worse.
That’s the problem–Kuemper is the only answer Minnesota has for MacKinnon. The Wild can shut down every other line but Colorado’s first. This team obviously can’t match the Avs goal for goal, Minnesota just doesn’t have the consistent scoring ability to do so. And that’s the other problem, the Wild is always the best man and never the groom. Minnesota will forever struggle to prove itself as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender without some serious star power.
The Wild is not the Boston Bruins. Tuukka Rask isn’t in net and Zdeno Chara isn’t manning the point. Nor does it have the high octane offense of the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Sharks or Penguins. Minnesota has a great supporting cast of NHL All Stars, but no superstar to take it to the next level.
There are a lot of great, talented youngsters in the Wild’s lineup and prospect pool, but none of them will ever reach the level that MacKinnon is already swiftly approaching. To get a guy like him, you have to be absolutely terrible. Minnesota has the misfortune of being consistently mediocre. Fortunately, the Wild’s scouting staff has been able to come up with more than a few gems, but there’s only one or two truly elite players taken every year.
Am I suggesting Minnesota fail miserably next season for a better crack at the highly touted Connor McDavid? Absolutely not. But Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has to find a way to get this team to the next level, or he’ll soon find himself looking for employment elsewhere. This just isn’t cutting it anymore. Fans and ownership have invested too much time, dedication, blood, sweat and tears for another early exit. It’s time to see some results. It could be an interesting offseason in the State of Hockey.