The Minnesota Wild are coming off their best regular season in team history. While a franchise-best 49 wins and 106 points are worth celebrating, though, the club couldn’t carry such success into the playoffs, and was eliminated in the first round by the St. Louis Blues.
Minnesota remained relatively quiet in the off-season, making small tweaks instead of major splashes, and the hope is that its high-octane offence, stingy defence corps and standout goaltending can be successful again.
UP-AND-COMING PLAYER TO WATCH
Joel Eriksson Ek made his NHL debut last season and went on to score three goals and seven points in 15 regular-season games for the Wild, before appearing in three of the club’s post-season contests. The 20-year-old Swede, selected in the first round (20th overall) by Minnesota in the 2015 NHL Draft, could see time as a third-line centre this season.
Ek has had success in the Swedish Hockey League as well as international tournaments, so the NHL represents the last and biggest step for him to conquer. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher is confident in the 6-foot-2, 196-pounder.
“Joel Eriksson Ek is a guy we’re excited about,” Fletcher said during a recent radio appearance. “He’s put on another 10 pounds this summer and he’s going to be a beast down the road – a big, strong guy.”
WHAT A SUCCESSFUL 2017-18 WOULD LOOK LIKE
Minnesota has endured two straight first-round exits and before that, two consecutive second-round eliminations. So, it stands to say that a deep run in the post-season is what would truly make this campaign a successful one. The Wild have never advanced past the Western Conference Final, so that would be a good place to start.
The club had the second-most goals in the NHL last season, behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins. That may be tough to repeat, as will having seven different players score at least 18 goals, but if the offence comes anywhere close to its 2016-17 output, the path to a successful season becomes much clearer.
Eric Staal resurrected his career with a 65-point effort last season. He led the team with 28 goals and, along with breakout star Mikael Granlund (26 goals, 69 points), will be counted on to lead the offence.
BIGGEST REMAINING QUESTION
Bruce Boudreau enters his second season as Wild coach, and while he has a strong resume, it is checkered with post-season blemishes. The knock on the former Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks bench boss is that he can never quite seem to get his teams over the hump.
In nine career playoff appearances as head coach, Boudreau has only once guided a team into the third round. Of course, there are numerous factors that determine a club’s post-season success, but it’s nonetheless a demon the longtime coach wants to exorcise.