According to this article from therichest.com, Fantasy Sports are an industry worth $3.6 billion worldwide. For some fans out there; they almost seem to live vicariously through their Fantasy teams. Especially those in the Fantasy Football crowd. They are incredibly serious fantasy general managers who exude as much effort and concentration in their consideration of a possible trade of their 3rd wide receiver as they would negotiating the mortgage of their house. These sorts of fans spend hours pouring over fantasy guides looking for those hidden gems to be found at their annual Fantasy Draft and spend their weekends in their ‘war room’ flipping through games on the NFL’s Sunday ticket or staring at their iPhone hoping to see some positive stats that will propel their team to a victory. I too participate in fantasy sports; but on a more casual level where most of it has been confined to Yahoo! fantasy leagues. In order to be completely transparent, according to my Yahoo! fantasy profile I am somewhere in between an ‘amateur’ and an ‘all star’ (I guess that’d make me a pro?), but I’d like to think I’m at least above average in that capacity as a Fantasy GM. One other important factor to consider, I’ve never been a part of a ‘keeper league,’ where you keep and deal those players you draft for as long as you wish to have them around. That certainly changes the dynamic of one’s decision making to be sure.
I might not be the Billy Beane of fantasy hockey, but like the famous Oakland Athletics GM I do my homework. I would like to create a guide for you fantasy hockey participants out there who are curious about what the Wild have to offer. I will try to tell you what players you should consider to select and which ones to avoid as well as my projections for the upcoming 2014-15 season. Hopefully this will be a resource that you can use when you start to make your pre-draft lists. So which Wild players should be on your fantasy radar?
I will not list every single Wild player on this fantasy listing because quite frankly they are not worth selecting in a fantasy draft, sorry Stephane Veilleux, Cody Almond, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, and Jonathon Blum. I will try to list players by when I feel you should select them, a sort of a Wild player draft board. The coverage of the rest of the Wild players for consideration for your fantasy team will not be even. I will provide the most thorough level of analysis, justification if you will, for those players who I think are the most helpful for a person’s fantasy team which will include projected stats for the 2014-15 season. I will also have a section for players who I feel should only be considered as mid-season acquisitions or players to keep an eye on in case of injuries to your other players or if injuries on the Wild occur over the course of the season as likely fill-ins on its Top 6 forward lines or Top 4 defensive pairings. So without further adieu, let’s begin!
Wild Players to draft
LW – Zach Parise
2013-14 Stats: 67GP 29G 27A = 56pts 30 PIM’s +10
Projected 2014-15 Stats: 72GP 32G 35A = 67pts
When should you draft him: 3rd to 4th round
Fantasy Notes: Last season was the first time in a non-Lockout year since the 2010-11 season where Parise failed to play at least 80 games. Durability is a significant factor when determining the value of any fantasy player, especially in a keeper league format. Parise’s 14 power play points might seem a bit low for a player who gets prime power play time whenever he’s healthy. It does not seem to matter who is centering his line; Zach Parise finds ways to score points and his relentless effort continues to be his hallmark making him a very solid 3rd or 4th round selection in your typical Yahoo! league. Here is a nice stat for you stat junkies out there. Parise’s goal production is up slightly since joining the Wild (.408 goals per game) versus (.38 goals per game) with the Devils. If your fantasy league awards points for shots; while Parise’s numbers are not elite its not for a lack of trying as he finished 22nd in the league in shots taken with 245 last season.
LW – Thomas Vanek
2013-14 Stats: 74GP 27G 41A = 68pts 46 PIM’s +7
Projected 2014-15 Stats: 76GP 32G 34A = 66pts
When should you draft him: 4th to 5th round
Fantasy Notes: Vanek should finally be able to settle down and not live out of a suitcase and the question is whether that comfort will allow him to focus more on hockey and improve his totals or will it make him a bit complacent. A friend of mine on the Wild.com message boards has a saying about the Wild, “Minnesota, where goal scorers totals go to die.” He is of course talking about the Wild’s focus to playing 2-way hockey at times has been the cause of goal totals that may seem to be a bit underwhelming or downright disappointing. Truth be told, the Wild have only had one player I’d say came even close to being an ‘elite’ scorer in Marian Gaborik. So far prior to the start of the season, Vanek seems destined to be playing on the 2nd line. If you are looking for a silver lining, it didn’t matter where Vanek played; he took his chances to shoot the puck and his 248 shots was good for 20th in the NHL which is impressive when you considered he played for 3 different teams last season. His 18 power play points will have a chance to increase as he will likely see prime power play time next year. My projected stats might be a bit conservative, but in his first season back in Minnesota playing on the 2nd line I think they are appropriate and most certainly achievable. I think his production makes him a solid 4th to 5th round selection in any Yahoo! league.
D – Ryan Suter
2013-14 Stats: 82GP 8G 35A = 43pts 34 PIM’s +15
2014-15 Projected Stats: 82GP 6G 40A = 46pts
When should you draft him: 4th or 5th round
Fantasy Notes: Suter is not a flashy offensive defenseman who accrues big numbers and its probably the only reason why hasn’t won a Norris Trophy already. Because beyond that, he is the ultimate workhorse for the Wild as he’s led the NHL in ice time per game the last two seasons averaging 29:25 in 2013-14. His big minutes mean he’s good for a respectable 40-50 points each season; mostly through osmosis. The Wild would be wise to cut his minutes back; but the fact Minnesota did not land a significant defenseman for its blueline will likely mean he’ll be at or near the top of the league in minutes played once again. Depending on how many spots for defenseman your fantasy league has; he’d be a great 4th or 5th round pick after you’ve acquired a more productive offensive-defenseman. Suter is durable and consistent (statistics-wise) which are desirable qualities in any fantasy league player.
RW – Jason Pominville
2013-14 Stats: 82GP 30G 30A = 60pts 16 PIM’s +3
2014-15 Projected Stats: 82GP 32G 32A = 64pts
When should you draft him: 6th to the 9th round
Fantasy Notes: Among some Wild fans they are delighted by the belief that Pominville is being reunited with his former Sabres’ teammate Vanek and likely playing on the 2nd line together. The hope of course is that this reunion will bring about the best in both players giving the Wild a very potent 1-2 punch. Pominville has been a very durable, very consistent player throughout his career. He too will get prime time on the power play where he often plays the role of triggerman which should be music to the ear of any fantasy GM. While he may not be the fastest player, his scoring instincts serve him well and 7 of his 30 goals last season came on the man advantage. The Repetigny, Quebec-native was 37th in the NHL in shots on goal with 225. I have been drafting Pominville for years on my fantasy teams, and he has never let me down.
C – Mikko Koivu
2013-14 Stats: 65GP 11G 43A = 54pts 24 PIM’s Even
2014-15 Projected Stats: 62GP 14G 45A = 59pts
When should you draft him: 7th to the 10th round
Fantasy Notes: The Wild’s default 1st line center and team captain is almost always among the team’s Top 5 in scoring. His lack of goal scoring is certainly a concern, but he is a deft playmaker. He certainly has the potential to score more goals if he would only shoot the puck more. Yet he could be a very solid depth pick at center for your fantasy team. He could also be a nice pickup if your fantasy league awards points for faceoff wins, as Koivu is one of the best on the draws in the league (54.8%) and is 25th in the NHL in the most faceoffs taken. Staying healthy is another x-factor as Koivu has suffered significant injuries the last 3 out of the last 4 seasons. While it may not put the Wild’s season into a death spiral if he gets hurt it still effects his ceiling and potential as a fantasy player.
G – Josh Harding
2013-14 Stats: 29GP (18W-7L-3OTL) 1.65GAA .933%SP 3SO
2014-15 Projected Stats: 32GP (19W-8L-4OTL) 1.98GAA .925%SP
When should the Wild draft him: 5th to the 8th round
Fantasy Notes: One of the agonizing choices in any fantasy draft is when to select a goaltender. Of course, you want to pick a player that is his teams starter so they play a consistent amount of games week to week throughout the season. Harding’s ongoing battle with Multiple Sclerosis is certainly an inspiring story of perseverance, but it also makes him a high-risk, high-reward player in a fantasy league. Harding was the NHL’s best goaltender in the 1st half of the season last year, but after a medication adjustment he simply was unable to return to play. Despite the lingering questions of his health he has to go into the 2014-15 season as the team’s #1 goaltender. Any GM that takes him will want to hedge his bet by selecting another starting goaltender if Harding’s health issues again put him on the shelf. I am sure the Wild themselves will be just as concerned about this as the Fantasy GM’s who are brave enough to select him.
C – Mikael Granlund
2013-14 Stats: 63GP 8G 33A = 41pts 22 PIM’s -3
2014-15 Projected Stats: 65GP 15G 43A = 58pts
When should you draft him: 8th to the 11th round
Fantasy Notes: Granlund is the lone young player I’d try to draft late as a depth forward. He will likely center the 2nd line along with Pominville and Vanek and that has a tremendous potential for some solid production. His injury-history (especially with concussions) does make him a bit more risky but as a late-round pick he could really take off which makes him too good to pass up. If the Wild really want to improve their power play, they should give him more time on the man advantage where Granlund can fully exploit the extra time and space to great effect. He took a huge step from his first season, exhibiting more speed and quickness and I think one can expect him to only get better and better as his confidence and comfort in the NHL game increases.
Players to keep an eye on
RW – Nino Niederreiter – The skilled winger had a nice breakout season with the Wild last year. He has Top 6 ability, but its unlikely he will be put in that role at least to start the season. Yet the potential is certainly there for another big jump in his totals. If there is an injury to a major component of the Wild’s Top 6, he might be worth picking up.
D – Jonas Brodin – Brodin started 2013-14 with a surprising amount of production with his 8 goal output, demonstrating increased confidence and assertiveness in the offensive zone. Yet a broken jaw seemed to make him hesitant and his play became a bit inconsistent. There is offensive potential there; so he might be a player you pick up later especially if you have an underperforming defenseman on your roster.
C – Charlie Coyle – Coyle is another young player who has lots of potential and at this point it looks like he will start the season as part of the team’s top 6 forwards. The prototypical power forward protects the puck well, but could stand to take more chances to shoot the puck. If he has a hot start, you might want to make him an early pick up off the waiver wire or very late fantasy draft pick.
C – Erik Haula – Haula dazzled in the playoffs with his speed and offensive ability; but will likely receive 3rd line minutes at the start of the season. Some fans, like myself think he could be effective on the 2nd power play unit where his creativity with the puck and scoring instincts could be useful. He could be on the brink of a breakout season.
D – Jared Spurgeon – Spurgeon is one of the team’s most trusted defenseman who combines mobility and excellent awareness at both ends of the ice. So far that hasn’t translated to being a major point producer but the potential is certainly there. He has a decent shot despite his diminutive size and he might be a good pick up if you have an underperforming defenseman on your team.
RW – Justin Fontaine – Fontaine embodies the plug-in-play player who can be used a wide variety of roles. He was a gifted scorer in his college days at UMD, and if injuries become a major problem he could be a strong candidate to play in an expanded role. Scoring 14 goals was a decent accomplishment for a player who probably deserved more ice time than he received.
D – Marco Scandella – Scandella matured a lot over the course of the 2013-14 season, as he established a greater level of confidence in his own zone. He has always had reasonable skill and mobility and he should remain on the Wild’s top 4. The offense he had in junior has not emerged yet, but now that he feels more comfortable defensively there is plenty of reason to expect his totals to improve where he might be an ok mid-season pick up.
In any Fantasy Draft I always look to draft a rookie or two that I think will have an impact for their NHL team. Last year I drafted Nathan MacKinnon with my last pick in my Yahoo! fantasy league; needless to say it was a great selection. With so few roster spots up for grabs that are not already occupied by veterans the potential for rookies to make an impact with the Wild this season are rather limited. I do not believe that Mathew Dumba or Gustav Olofsson are ready yet. So who does that leave?
D – Christian Folin – The youngster brings a big shot and a two way game, but does that translate to points? Its tough to say, I certainly would not draft Folin. If he takes off he might be worthy of a mid-season pick up. He will not be the highest profile rookie next season in the NHL; so he should likely be available if he catches fire.