Could the Minnesota Wild have asked for a better game to be their 2021 home opener? I certainly don’t think so.
After a phenomenal road trip out in California to kick off the season – in which they went 3-1 and played two of the most exciting games we’ve seen in recent memory – the Wild returned to the State of Hockey for their first home game.
Throughout the entire game, the Wild – especially the younger players – looked dominant.
Joel Erikkson Ek is playing out of his mind right now. Wild fans are familiar with the strong, physical play that Ek has showcased over the past several seasons, but this is a completely different side of him. Why? Because he’s scoring!
Minnesota Wild media and fans for years have talked about his defensive skills and strength being a huge asset, but he never seemed to find the score sheet, but where is he right now? Leading the Wild in goals and tied with Kaprizov and Greenway for overall points. His improved ability to be a strong net-front presence was especially on display last night as he scored the Wild’s first goal.
This is who the Wild saw when they drafted him with the 20th overall pick in 2015, and though it has taken a long time, he finally seems to be rounding into the player that former GM Chuck Fletcher thought he would be – and that is really exciting for a team that for so long has lacked young talent at center.
I’m not saying that he’s going to go out and win the Rocket Richard, but this offensive development is certainly a step in the right direction.
Another Minnesota Wild youngster that continues to show improvement is behemoth Jordan Greenway. Last night was Greenway’s best game of the season, and is the continuation of a trend that we have seen since he was essentially put on notice after last season that he needed to improve if he wanted to stay in the National Hockey League.
This year, Greenway looks faster and more willing to use his monstrous six-foot-six frame. He is quick to pucks when forechecking, and is far more physical, which he showcased last night by getting into it with Sharks d-man Mario Ferraro before the end of the second period.
Minnesota Wild fans should be thrilled with this development of Greenway because he finally seems to be becoming the player we all know he can be. He’s big and skilled, and he looks far more comfortable and in control of his game than he did at any point last year.
His puck possession, which has been his strong suit, looks great, and his vision and playmaking ability also seem to have gotten better. Through 5 games, he certainly looks vastly improved, and I think that improvement continues to showcase to head coach Dean Evason that Greenway deserves every minute he’s playing. Glad to see him add a long distance empty netter for his first of the season as well.
Another youngster that Wild fans are thrilled to see shine is Kaapo Kahkonen. Though Cam Talbot started the game, he was replaced at the start of the second period due to injury. Kahkonen entered the game in relief and blanked the Sharks for the rest of the night, stopping 17 of 17 shots.
This performance follows a solid season debut in the previous game against the Ducks on Wednesday. Kahkonen – the reigning AHL Goaltender of the Year – is seeing minutes due to goalie Alex Stalock’s injury which occurred before the season started, and though he has only played a little over a game and a half this year, he has been fun to watch.
Of course what would an article about the Wild youngsters be without mentioning Kirill “The Thrill” Kaprizov? This guy has been everything we have been waiting for and somehow has exceeded expectations (which were very high). Every time he steps on the ice, he does something electric with ease.
Whether it’s setting up teammates for scoring chances, maintaining puck possession, or his defense, Kaprizov continues to showcase why he is poised to be a true star in the NHL. Of course, there will be rookie growing pains, but as long as he continues to work hard, be a good teammate and dazzle when he’s on the ice, I don’t think Wild fans will mind.
Also, don’t think I wasn’t going to mention this:
That between-the-legs shot attempt should terrify the rest of the league. You know why? Because his confidence is growing, and that spells danger for every opponent the Minnesota Wild will face from now until the end of the season.
Hopefully the Empty Net goal jumpstarts Kevin Fiala’s game, but Wild fans should be excited that the primary producers for this team seem to be the kids on the roster. Who do you want to see more from? Leave a comment down below or tweet at us @FSGonePuckWild!