As we approach the 2016-17 season, we’re previewing what’s ahead for each of the 30 NHL teams. Here’s what’s on deck for the Minnesota Wild.
MAIN SUMMER HEADLINES
Head coach: Bruce Boudreau
GM: Chuck Fletcher
Team payroll: $70.83 million ($73 million salary cap)
2015-16 Record: 38-33-11 (Fifth in Central)
GF: 216 (20th in NHL)
GA: 206 (Eighth in NHL)
Result: Lost in first round to Dallas, 4-2
Key acquisitions: Eric Staal, Chris Stewart
Key departures: Thomas Vanek
Rookies to watch: You have to go back to the 2012 NHL Draft to find a homegrown Wild player (Mathew Dumba) who’s made an impact at the NHL level. While Minnesota’s core is largely a group of players over the age of 30, there are a couple of intriguing prospects who could earn a look with the big club this season.
Alex Tuch, whom the Wild selected 18th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, signed his entry-level deal this past spring and could make his debut in 2016-17. He’s a big body at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and he’s shown a knack for finding the back of the net with 32 goals over the past two seasons at Boston College.
Joel Eriksson Ek is also a candidate to land some playing time with the Wild this coming season. The 20th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft has spent the last two seasons with Farjestads BK Karlstad of the Swedish Hockey League. His scoring totals in Sweden are not exactly immediately eye-catching, but he held his own as an under-20 player among men.
Minnesota will have a successful season if…
The offence comes alive. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk and the Wild’s defence corps kept the club in games most nights but 216 goals for was the lowest total among all Western Conference teams that qualified for the post-season.
The Wild need Eric Staal to find his offensive prowess that’s appeared to be on decline over the last couple of seasons. A bounce back from 33-year-old Jason Pominville would help, so to would a healthy Zach Parise.
There’s no shortage of youthful scoring power with the likes of Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, and Charlie Coyle all trending upward.
Bruce Boudreau helped get the Anaheim Ducks back on course and he boasts a history of success, playoff Game 7s aside. He enters his first season in Minnesota with a good mix of veterans and youth with which to work.
Minnesota will have an unsuccessful season if…
Its aging core takes a steep dive south. Minnesota has significant dollars and term dedicated to Mikko Koivu, Parise, Pominville, Staal, and Ryan Suter, all of whom are over the age of 30.
Despite the offensive shortcomings, Minnesota still managed a +10 goal differential in 2015-16. Dubnyk and the defence will give them a shot, but it’s on the veterans up front to keep pace in the competitive Central Division. Both the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets could take a step forward in 2016-17.