Set to begin on Thursday September 18th, Training Camp, is just under a month away folks. Start the countdown now Wild fans, for Hockey season, is among us. We are nearly there, which means one of the most exciting times of the year for every “dream coach” or “expert” of the game out there. Finalizing the roster, projecting who plays where, and who with. Yea, it may be early for this, but with only Nino Niederreiter and Darcy Kuemper still un-signed, I think it’s safe to say, following new contracts to the latter, GM Chuck Fletcher will be satisfied with this group where it stands. Even despite rumors of the Wild being interested in Paul Bissonnette you ask? I’m sure I’m not the only one who just can’t grasp the idea of signing a fourth line fighter, who throughout his career, has been marketed as just that. Think about it for a moment, (while you also consider the tremendous amount of depth the Wild currently have). If the Wild wanted a personality, or a fighter, they would have kept Konopka or McCormick. Remember, these line projections are simply an opinion at such an early point of the season. However, I provide my logic and support to back it up.
With the addition of Thomas Vanek this summer, Coach Mike Yeo has been given what most teams in the heated Western Conference have to work with, a strong top 6 group of forwards. Through trades and free agency the past two-three seasons, Fletch has done a solid job at reeling in top end talent i.e. Parise and Vanek during free agency, Pominville via trade, and drafting well for future (now rising) stars, such as Mikael Granlund and dare I say Erik Haula. Both of whom are Finns (as we know), for Captain Koivu’s parenting. Let us not forget other trades that seemed maybe, “insignificant,” at the time. I’m talking about bringing Coyle and Nino to the state of hockey. Honestly, who would have thought Nino Neiderreiter, the first rounder, a minus 30 in 64 games with the Isles, who was traded for fan-favorite Cal Clutterbuck (now a petty name), would be a Minnesota game seven hero? If you did, than you have no business reading articles… No Seriously, you could be coaching or GM’ing somewhere.
Fletcher knew precisely what he was doing by signing Parise, the hometown kid for the rest of his career. He would be the attraction of any other Minnesota native that desperately wanted to go home in the future, in this case it was Vanek. Chuck did it wisely though, by trading for Vanek’s BFF Jason Pominville first, knowing that Vanek would come to him when he hit FA. Now look at them go, you have the Minnesota Wild’s top 6, at a minimum of 3 years (keep reading, this will make sense). I truly believe Nino gets signed for 3 years before camp, and with Granlund being a RFA at next season’s end, he gets the same treatment after a foreseeable breakout year in 2014/2015. With that being said, the lines:
1st Line Prediction: Parise-Koivu-Coyle
Let’s not forget, I’m talking PRE training camp routes that Yeo may take. However, this could go in an abundant amount of directions. Realistically, Parise is the only guaruntee on the first line. The fans know it, Yeo knows it. The guy missed 15 games last year and still was second on the team in scoring. Koivu and Coyle are the question marks. Until Mikko no longer wears the ‘C’, or a Wild sweater, he still is this teams top center and playmaker and led the squad with 43 helpers last season. On top of that, Koivu and Parise have been a fiesty duo during their two years together. Charlie is getting more of my attention at this point. Coyle is a forechecking machine out there, a young physical presence. But two seasons in, and my question remains, is he a top line forward? Can he eclipse the twenty goal mark during his third year? Or at least provide a respectable top line point total rather than last season’s 30? Granted, he really came on late in the season and the playoffs, but if it takes another mid-season sitdown with the coach to get him in gear, I don’t see him in the top 3 or even the top 6 by this season’s end (more on that later). The underdog in my eyes is none other than Nino Niederreiter. This could be a fun year to watch the NHL 15 Swiss cover phenom, and I could easily see him taking Coyle’s spot up front by the season’s start. His goal total will undoubtedly rise from the 14 he netted last year, as will his 36 points. For now though, this is how it starts.
2nd Line Prediction: Vanek-Granlund-Pominville
Not many surprises here. Granlund and Pominville had a great season together last year and everyone expects much of the same. Throw in another proven goal scorer in TV, and hopefully more chemistry ignites from a previous relationship in Buffalo. With Granny on the rise, and Pommer maintaining consistency, all eyes are on the former Gopher now. He hasn’t scored 30 in a season since 2010-2011, but even 25 additional goals (that Vanek should supply) would have gotten the Wild a minimum of 5-7 more wins last year. That is the mindset management has. I think Granlund’s numbers will rise significantly as well, thanks to the vet on either side of him. I’d be surprised if this isn’t the most in-tact and stable line that this season’s Wild owns.
3rd Line Prediction: Zucker-Haula-Niederreiter/Cooke-Haula-Niederreiter
Thanks to the depth, possibilities are endless here, as they are with the 4th. If it was up to me, who wouldn’t want to see a speedy Jason Zucker (who has something to prove this year or he’s out), alongside new fan favorite Erik Haula? How fast of a 3rd line would it be? Haula, who had an absolutely sick playoff series vs. the Hawks, has tremendous up-side and potential to be a game changer with the right line mates. As far as I’m concerned, he earned this spot already. Nino should not be playing anything less than 3rd line minutes, and I really feel that if he and Coyle swap for the 1st line wing, that would dismiss the argument that this line could potentially be a defensive liability. If Yeo decided that grinder Matt Cooke needs to stay on the 3rd line (where he played all last season), than I say it should be Cooke, Haula, Nino. The first combination of forwards is just so much more intriguing and exciting to dream about. And honestly, how can anyone expect Zucker to achieve a breakout year on the 4th line, when he is already on the hot seat? Right, it’s not happening.
4th Line Prediction: Cooke-Brodziak-Fontaine
Finishing up with the forwards, this is not a bad 4th line. Good for 10 minutes a night. I will be the first to say, Fontaine deserves more than that after a respectable rookie campaign. 13 Tallies, first Minnesota rookie to score a hat trick, I got it. But he played well with Cooke who also had a nice season for himself as well. Cooke stealing the puck and dropping it to Fonz, who roofed it over Corey Crawford from a hard angle was one of the nicer plays during Minny’s playoff run. Plays like that are why they stay together. After scoring on opening night last year, from a cross ice feed by Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke made a solid debut in Wild green. He played tough all season and really cleaned up his game. I thought the hard working third line was going to light it up all season long after watching their success in game 1 to start the year. It never took its course though, despite being a solid forechecking duo of Cooke and Brodzy (which is why I have them staying together), I had never seen someone as unlucky and cursed as much as Kyle. Very tough year for him, as anyone could tell you, which is why I have him landing 4th line C. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, a possible trade on the horizon looms as he enters his final year under contract. He is solid in the faceoff circle though and will throw his body around, which is a good reason to keep him for now and utilize him where he can be productive.
Misses: Rechlicz, Bulmer, Almond, Schroeder, Keranen, Veilluex
On the Defensive side of the ice, Minnesota had the 7th ranked GAPG at 2.42 during the regular season. Solid, yet lots of youth, able to improve. Suter is the obvious #1, but who is going to be our #2? Or even a sure #3? The extended playoff period last year really helped develop guys like Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. Many say Jonas Brodin suffered from the dreaded sophomoric slump, and I am inclined to agree. You have to think that Suter’s permanent partner this season will be Jonas Brodin in order to lessen the likeliness of further regression during the 2014/15 season. The second pairing looks like it’ll most likely be Scandella and Spurgeon. I like both of these guys, especially Spurge. Look for him to have the best year of his young career. Scandella showed improvement this year and got good playoff experience, yet he did not look very sharp during the Avs series. If management does not see further improvement, from a player who will be entering his fifth season in the Wild’s organization, I could see Marco shipped elsewhere to make room for prospects who will soon be patiently waiting their turn (i.e. Dumba, Olofsson). Same goes for rugged vet Keith Ballard. Ballard has shown glimpses of what he once was, and horrifying images of what many believe he is destined for. With that being said, because of that coveted hip check, the departure of Clayton Stoner, and his experience, he will be the third pairing partner of Christian Folin. The 23 year old Kungsbacka Sweden native has everyone fired up. If you haven’t watched an interview or read a story of his, I suggest you get on it. His composure and body language already scream battle hardened veteran somehow, guy is for real.
Misses: Dumba, Blum, Bickell
There you have it, my predictions for how the lines will be worked heading into training camp and possible outcomes if things don’t go the way they are expected. Think you have got it figured out yourself? Let us hear it fans.