The Minnesota Wild have one of the best bottom-six forward groups in the NHL. One of the anchors of that group is forward Nico Sturm who excels at his defensive assignments. He has become a strong bottom-six forward at defending the team’s opposition. His hard work and strong defensive numbers have resulted in him being a mainstay in the bottom-six and having some time on the penalty kill.
This is the reason why it is puzzling that Sturm will be scratched for a 3rd time in 5 games. Dean Evason’s lineup decisions and deployment have been questionable in many different situations this season. He should be playing over both Johnson and Rau.
The 25-year-old rookie ranks 10th in defensive goals above replacement – a comprehensive metric that takes all defensive contributions into account – among all NHL forwards. This is very impressive and a reason why he has become a legit NHLer.
He is an impactful defensive player which fits the mold of the Wild’s bottom-six that includes other defensive stalwarts including Marcus Foligno and Ryan Hartman. He has been one of the better defensive forwards in the league, specifically due to his strong penalty-kill numbers.
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Sturm has registered 4 goals, 3 assists, and 7 points in 33 games. Again, his role isn’t to be an offensive contributor – although that would be nice – but rather to be a strong defensive player that can hold his own.
With that being said, he has an expected goal share of over 56 percent which is the third-best mark among Wild forwards. That being mostly an effect of his strong defensive results. Likewise, his shot share of just over 48 percent is third among Wild forwards (fourth on the team) which isn’t strong, but clearly, the Wild have been poor in this regard which has caused almost all to be under 50 percent.
While Luke Johnson and Kyle Rau haven’t been bad, Sturm deserves to be in the lineup over both, and specifically the latter of the two.