Monday, September 20, 2010

2010-2011 Minnesota Wild Preview

The Minnesota Wild
The American Siberia 
He's got the whole world in his hands... well not the world, just a basement hockey team

Previous Year's Team Stats
38 wins, 36 losses, 8 OTL, 84 points, 20th overall in the league

Team Analysis

The Minnesota Wild enter this year searching for an identity in the organization's 10th year in the NHL. Entering their second season with the team is general manager Chuck Fletcher and head coach Todd Richards who are trying to restructure the Wild's playing style from eight years of being the most defensive focused team in the league to an up-tempo offensive focus. The team struggled mightily last season to adapt to this approach and has suffered quite a few growing pains since the organization's revamp. The Wild lack top tier offensive talent and are a team that's not going in any particular direction at the moment. What the Wild do have is a collection of solid players who could surprise if everything goes right this season. 

The Wild are led up front by captain Mikko Koivu who's developed into one of the best two-way centers in the game. Koivu had a career year last season with 71 points and is one of the finest puck distributors today. Look for Koivu to improve upon his previous year's totals. The Wild signed venerable scorer Martin Havlat to a fat contract last off-season and will expect him to be a significant contributor on offense. Havlat is close to a consistent PPG player when healthy while displaying a solid two-way acumen and bit of a dark side to his game. If Havlat can stay healthy the Wild's offense will get a significant boost from last season. Complimenting the offense is dependable veteran Andrew Brunette who's become a fixture in Minnesota. Brunette has a reputation for performing in the clutch and has become a lock to score 20 goals each season. Look for him to shift between the Wild's first and second line and put in a strong effort as this is a contract year for him. Likely sticking with Koivu is talented two-way winger Antti Miettinen. The Finnish winger has found a bit of a scoring touch since arriving in Minnesota two seasons ago eclipsing 40 points in both campaigns. While Miettinen isn't the most talented offensive player on the Wild the team feels he clicks with Koivu, so he'll likely be getting first line minutes. 

Centering the second line will be recent UFA signee Matt Cullen who was partially brought in for his veteran experience. Matt Cullen is a capable two-way center who will knock down a point every other game and can play on both special teams. Likely playing the opposite wing will be surprising 23-year old Guillaume Latendresse who blossomed with the Wild scoring 37 points in 55 games after a desperately needed change of scenery trade from Montreal. It will be interesting to see if he can keep his momentum from last season and be the go-to goal scorer the Wild desperately need.  Rounding out the top six will talented playmaker Pierre-Marc Bouchard who unfortunately was rocked with a season ending concussion after only one game last season. Bouchard will likely miss a few games to open the season but at the time of this writing he is skating and working out with the team. 

Centering the third line will be former Selke winner John Madden who's coming to the Wild fresh off the third Stanley Cup win of his career. Madden has one of the finest pedigree in the league and has earned a reputation as one of the finest shutdown centers in the game. However Madden is getting a little long in the tooth and showed himself to a lose a step or two in his campaign with Chicago last season. Madden will be looked upon to contribute his veteran experience and to fill the defensive gaps up front. Playing on third line with Madden will be hard working depth scorer Chuck Kobasew who struggled last season with scoring inconsistencies and injury woes. Kobasew is a three time 20-goal scorer and will look to have a bounce back season. Likely playing the opposite wing will be recent UFA signee Eric Nystrom who's another hard working player. Nystrom is being brought in for his untapped offensive potential and to add some grit into the Wild's bottom six. 

Rounding out the forwards group will be a wrecking ball on skates Cal Cutterbuck who's already gained a reputation as one of the most proficient hitters and pests in the league. Centering the fourth line will be Kyle Brodziak who's found a niche for himself as a depth center. Likely playing the opposite wing will be middleweight enforcer Brad Staubitz who was brought to the Wild to fill the pugilistic gap. 

Former ninth overall pick James Sheppard will miss up to four months with a knee injury. Sheppard who has played 224 games with the Wild since breaking into the NHL has his future in doubt right now. 

Role player Robbie Earl, scorer Casey Wellman, Czech depth player Petr Kalus and grinder Colton Gillies could all see games with the Wild this season. 

The Wild are led on the backend by offensive defenseman Marek Zidlicky who scored 43 points last season. Zidlicky has been one of the most consistent point producing defensemen since entering the league however Zidlicky has never been that great in his own zone. Likely playing with Zidlicky will be the Wild's de facto shutdown defenseman Greg Zanon who got the most penalty kill minutes on the blue line in Minnesota last year. Zanon has quietly developed into a very good stay at home defenseman and will once again be counted upon to take the bulk of defensive minutes. 

Wild fans are very intrigued by 25-year old Brent Burns who's developed into a very respectable three zone minute eating defenseman. Burns was another Wild player who struggled through an injury filled campaign last year but has quietly blossomed into a potential top defenseman. If Burns can stay healthy look for him to become Minnesota's top defenseman this year while posting over 30 points. Playing with Burns will likely be capable minute eating defenseman Nick Schultz who averaged over 20 minutes a game last season. Schultz has never really found his offensive game in the NHL but will play on both the power play and penalty kill for Minnesota.

The third pairing will likely see former third overall pick Cam Barker get significant playing time. Barker has the potential to be a first tier offensive contributor but has some serious holes in his defensive game. Look for Barker to be one of the main contributors on the Wild's powerplay and to have his role slowly expanded. Playing with Barker will likely be gritty defensive defenseman Clayton Stoner who has the finest last name in all of hockey. Stoner was yet another Wild to have injury woes last season but will be the Wild's sixth defenseman.

Niklas Backstrom had a very pedestrian year by his standards last season in his fourth year as the Wild's number one goaltender. The team's shift in emphasis from defense to offense significantly hurt Backstrom's numbers and served to cause an inconsistent season for a goalie who had been a perennial name on top ten goalie lists. Backstrom is one of the highest paid goalies in the league and has a NTC so the Wild are stuck with him and can only hope that he'll bounce back. Backing up Backstrom will be 26-year old Josh Harding who's been the subject of trade rumors in virtually all of his five years in the NHL. Harding is an extremely talented goalie who has number one potential if he can get an opportunity and stay healthy. Look for Harding to play 25-30 games.

Team Trending

The Wild seem to be trying to institute a rebuild on the fly that they haven't seen any dividends from yet. While this team had a woeful streak of injuries and adjusting to a new system last year, it lacks the top end talent necessary to become a playoff threat. This season for the Wild will be about GM Chuck Fletcher continuing to add pieces to the core of his team and hoping his team can get hot. Look for the Wild to come in somewhere between 19th-23rd in the league. 

BVB Opening Night Projected Line-Up




Player Projections


Andrew Brunette - 27 G/32 A 59 P
Mikko Koivu - 24 G/55 A 79 P
Antti Miettinen - 22 G/21 A 43 P

Guillaume Latendresse - 32 G/26 A 58 P
Matt Cullen - 14 G/35 A 49 P
Martin Havlat - 23 G/36 A 59 P

Eric Nystrom - 13 G/13 A 26 P
John Madden - 11 G/14 A 25 P
Chuck Kobasew - 19 G/15 A 34 P

Brad Staubitz - 2 G/4 A 6 P
Kyle Brodziak - 7 G/20 A 27 P
Cal Cutterbuck - 12 G/10 A 22 P


Marek Zidlicky - 7 G/30 A 37 P
Greg Zanon - 1 G/15 A 16 P
Brent Burns - 4 G/24 A 28 P
Nick Schultz - 3 G/15 A 18 P
Cam Barker - 7 G/21 A 28 P
Clayton Stoner - 0 G/9 A 9 P 


Niklas Backstrom - 24-24-8 | 2.80 GAA | .906 Sv%
Josh Harding - 11-13-2 | 2.97 GAA | .905 Sv%

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