It appears the Minnesota Wild are done with trading and free-agent acquisitions, so let’s examine what the Wild’s starting lineup could look like for opening night.
After all the offseason contract extensions, trades, and moving on from players such as longtime captain Mikko Koivu, what does the Wild’s depth chart look like as of now?
There have been several trades executed by Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin which has increasingly changed the dynamic of the Wild’s depth chart.
The Wild parted ways with Mikko Koivu and allowed Galchenyuk to walk to FA. They traded Eric Staal, Ryan Donato, Luke Kunin, and Devan Dubnyk. They re-signed Jonas Brodin to a massive seven-year contract extension and re-signed Carson Soucy to a multi-year contract extension.
It is unknown whether Marco Rossi will make the team next season, albeit his agent appears convinced he is ready to make the jump.
While the depth chart remains to be crystal clear, let’s examine what the lineup could look like.
Kirill Kaprizov – Marcus Johansson – Kevin Fiala
Kirill Kaprizov enters his rookie season poised to make a significant impact. Kaprizov became the youngest player to score 100 goals in KHL history, and will likely contend for the Calder trophy this season. I see him sharing ice at some point with Fiala, but it is unknown whether the pair of wingers will start the season together on the first line.
It appears Marcus Johansson will center the Wild’s first line. This certainly is not permanent and is likely rather an experiment to see if it works. Johansson’s dominant years were in Washington where he was a top-six winger. The Wild are confident he can succeed at center, but there is no guarantee this works out. If not, the Wild now have center depth despite the lack of an elite center.
Kevin Fiala was the Wild’s best forward in the second half of the 2019-20 campaign. He should slot in the first line. This will certainly be the biggest test of Fiala’s career and whether he can continue his offensive dominance.
Prediction: I think this line could work out, it will depend on whether Johansson can get back to his offensive level in the days of Washington. He is the biggest question mark.
Zach Parise – Marco Rossi – Mats Zuccarello
Zach Parise was one of the Wild’s best forwards last season and will look to continue his offensive play. Despite being 36 years old, the veteran winger has shown no signs of regression. He notched 25 goals and 21 assists for 46 points while averaging just over 17 minutes of ice time.
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I am purely betting on Marco Rossi making the big club next season, his agent has said he expects Rossi to make the team. I like Rossi centering the second line versus the third line because Eriksson Ek is a better fit on the third line between Greenway and Bjugstad.
Mats Zuccarello will look to rebound from an unimpressive season. In his first season with the Wild, the veteran winger recorded 15 goals, 22 assists, and 37 points while averaging just under 16 minutes a night. While he wasn’t completely underwhelming, the Wild expects more out of the $6M/season winger.
Prediction: I really like this line, and I do expect Zuccarello to rebound next season. Zuccarello’s playmaking and shooting ability along with Rossi’s two-way-game and superb passing ability, could gel well with Parise’s knack for the net.
Jordan Greenway – Joel Eriksson Ek – Nick Bjugstad
The Wild must have the utmost confidence in Jordan Greenway after trading wingers Luke Kunin and Ryan Donato. This year is Greenway’s biggest test, similar to Fiala, in proving himself. Greenway has some things to work on, but he is an incredibly capable hockey player. He needs to use his stature more to his advantage and must shoot the puck more.
Joel Eriksson Ek is one of the best defensive centers in the league and was behind only Marcus Foligno defensively in the 2019-20 campaign. I think he’s better slotted centering the third line between Bjugstad and Greenway and this line could be one of the Wild’s most impactful lines.
Nick Bjugstad needed a change of scenery and got it when he was traded to the Wild for a conditional seventh-round pick. While he was productive several years ago, injuries and deployment have seriously hurt his game. He likely plays the wing but is able to play at center too.
Prediction: This could be a very interesting line combination because of Greenway’s size, Eriksson Ek’s defensive game, and Bjugstad’s two-way game that has been on display over the past three years. He just needs to turn his underlying numbers into more production in goal scoring.
Marcus Foligno – Nick Bonino – Ryan Hartman
Marcus Foligno just came off a career year and is in the final year of his contract. This next season will be very important and could decide his future in that regard. His physicality, leadership, and elite defensive play make him one of the best bottom-six forwards in the NHL.
Nick Bonino is well known by the analytics community because of his elite two-way game. If he does center the fourth line next season, he will instantly become the best fourth-line center in the NHL.
Ryan Hartman is an impactful middle-six winger that keeps playing on the fourth line. He has a fantastic two-way game and brings the grit the Wild have lacked, this was a very good free-agent pickup by Paul Fenton. While he sometimes was frustrating due to his lack of discipline, he is the number one overlooked forward on the Wild.
Prediction: If this happens to be the Wild’s fourth line next season, this will be the best fourth line in the NHL and near the top as the best bottom-six line in the NHL. All three forwards are well known by the analytics community because of their positive impactful play.
The defensive pairings will stay the same for next season.
The Wild will once again have one of the best, if not the best, defensive core in the league. However, this time, the Wild will have a suitable goaltender in the crease behind them. The Wild do have Greg Pateryn as a seventh-defenseman.
Cam Talbot will be the starter and Alex Stalock most likely gets the backup role. Kaapo Kahkonen just signed a two-year extension and should be the backup for year two of the deal.
All Data Via Hockey-Reference