Minnesota Wild: Who Should Be The Top Forward Line?

25 October 2016: Minnesota Wild winger Mikael Granlund (64) waits for his turn in a warm up drill. The Minnesota Wild defeated the Boston Bruins 5-0 in a regular season NHL game at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
25 October 2016: Minnesota Wild winger Mikael Granlund (64) waits for his turn in a warm up drill. The Minnesota Wild defeated the Boston Bruins 5-0 in a regular season NHL game at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Minnesota Wild Training Camp opened yesterday, and most of what was on the ice was to be expected. One of the more surprising things, may be the way the top 2 forward lines were organized during the dreaded conditioning tests.

The Minnesota Wild opened camp, and everyone was on the ice except for Luke Kunin. Kunin is still recovering from last season’s knee injury, and will not participate in any of training camp or preseason.

The surprise from day one, was evident when Group A stepped onto the ice for their run of conditioning sprints. Jason Zucker and Eric Staal were on the ice as expected, but I was definitely surprised that it was not Nino Niederreiter joining them on that line. Instead we were given Mikael Granlund as the third forward with this group.

When Group B came onto the ice, Niederreiter was present for his conditioning tests alongside Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. While it’s early and we try not to read too much into preseason, this appears to be coach Boudreau’s first choice for his Top 6 Forwards. I’m here to ask the question, is this the best combination on the Top 6?

Koivu and Parise have been nearly inseparable since Parise’s arrival to the Minnesota Wild 6 years ago. They have shown a trust with one another that is hard to find, and both into their 30s they can play the game at the same speed.

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Zucker and Staal showed a ton of chemistry over the last 2 seasons, both recording personal best years in both seasons. I see no reason to separate these two, the question has always been who the best player to play alongside them would be.

Granlund clearly has the speed to keep up with Zucker on fast breaks, and a propensity for a pass-first mentality that should go well with the sniping ability of Zucker. Granlund has broken 30 assists every season since his rookie year, and would be a great asset to that top line.

Nino has spent a lot of time on that top line with Zucker and Staal, and the line has been successful when together. Nino provides a different sort of edge from Granlund, offering a bigger body forward to stand his ground and outmuscle players trying to bump him off the puck.

With the aging Staal and smaller Zucker, a larger body on that line may be necessary to prevent them from being outmatched in the size department. Granlund provides the speedier line, attempting to out skate the opposition. If we put Granlund on the first line, then the second line looks much slower by comparison.

Parise can still get some jump behind him from time to time, but injuries and age are catching up to him as well. He can’t go full speed for an entire game anymore. Koivu has never been one of the fastest players on the ice, and slows down any line he is on anyhow.

Playing Nino beside them, a larger power forward with limited bursts of speed, is just asking for opposing teams to skate circles around them. Nino can be excellent when he has players that accent his game well, but when put in a role that reduces his offensive output we may see him regress and struggle like he did in New York prior to being traded to Minnesota

There is another option to consider here, and it may seem crazy right now but as we get into the season it could be the answer should the Wild struggle to find secondary offense as they have in past years.

I propose, that Mikko Koivu be removed from the Top 6 altogether. I know I’ve made this prediction in Koivu’s season preview, that Koivu could be surpassed by a young player, but there is another option.

If the Minnesota Wild want to truly maximize their skill and scoring potential, I propose the following lines:

Zucker – Staal – Niederreiter
Parise – Eriksson Ek – Granlund
Greenway – Koivu – Coyle

This allows Joel Eriksson Ek to play with his fellow Scnadinavian in Granlund, while also giving him an opportunity to have an offensive breakout year. He was praised as a clutch offensive player and goal scorer in Sweden, it’s time for him to take that next step as a First Round Pick and bring that scoring touch to the Minnesota Wild second line.

By moving Mikko Koivu to the 3rd line, you are doing two key things that makes this a twofold benefit to the entire roster. You are putting your top 2-way forward into a checking/shut-down line role, where along with Jordan Greenway and Charlie Coyle they can bring energy while also being poised and responsible.

It offers the potential of a 3rd scoring line but can also be called upon in any situation. Teams in the NHL now cannot win with only 1 or 2 lines doing all of the scoring, and this would provide a dependable third line that should put up a reliable amount of points together.

Next. What to do with the Defensive Log Jam. dark

It’s only one day of training camp so far, and perhaps I’m a little quick on the trigger before we see how the lines perform in game action. I’m definitely slightly surprised by the lineup on day 1, but we’ll give it time to see how they work together in a preseason game.