There’s one thing that is easy to project with the Minnesota Wild lines and it that is they are still very reliant on older players with declining production. Minnesota scored a division-worst 83 points in 2018-19. Their top three point producers will all be 35 at the beginning of next year and while their farm system is improving, the youngsters aren’t major factors yet. The team also has several players under long-term contracts that will be difficult to move and expensive to buyout.
Minnesota Wild Lines
Despite these issues, Minnesota has the potential to be better in 2019-20. They still have some talented players at key positions and young ones poised to improve their production. They also have just over $11 million available with very few players to sign.
The First Line
Parise and Staal were the team’s two leading point producers last season with 61 and 52, respectively. They remain productive veterans as they enter their age 35 seasons. The two will continue to play big minutes at even strength and the power play.
Zucker will likely join them unless the team’s efforts to trade him go through. The 27-year-old wing had another fine year for the Wild with 21 goals and 42 points. He has a tremendous opportunity to cement himself as Minnesota’s most important player in 2019-20. However, consider Zucker’s position tentative with the trade rumors swirling about.
The Second Line
Zuccarello is the big addition here coming in via free agency. The former New York Ranger and Dallas Star scored 40 points in 48 games in 2018-2019 between those two teams. He reached a new level with 11 points in 13 playoff games. Minnesota probably overpaid for a wing who will be 32 in 2019-20, but Zuccarello will be a fan favorite and have a chance to sneak onto the top line depending on what happens with Zucker.
His two linemates could be two of the Wild’s young options. Fiala has some experience with five years in the NHL, most of which have been played with the Nashville Predators. He was brought in via trade to save Minnesota some money. The 2014 1st round pick scored 39 points in 83 games with Nashville and Minnesota last year. He will play solid minutes and have a chance to put up numbers closer to his 2017-2018 totals of 23 goals and 48 points.
Eriksson Ek was Minnesota’s first pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s had a relatively quiet career to this point, posting just 37 points in 148 games while averaging 12:51 per game over that time. However, Eriksson Ek saw slightly more ice time in 2018-19 and giving him two experienced mates like Zuccarello and Fiala could make the Swedish centre a bigger threat.
The Third Line
Veteran Mikko Koivu enters what might be his final season. Minnesota’s all-time leader in points is 36-years-old and coming off his least productive season since his rookie campaign in 2005-2006. Koivu scored just eight goals and 29 points in 48 games. Koivu will have every chance to produce one final time for the fans, but could end up on the fourth line by the year’s end.
Joining him could be several options, with veteran Foligno being among the most seasoned. Foligno is far from exciting after scoring just 19 points in 82 games last year, but he did lead the Wild in hits with 206. This is a low-risk option for Minnesota, who doesn’t have much proven depth scoring left.
Donato has as good a chance as anyone to secure a top-nine role. The 2014 draft pick scored 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota and the Boston Bruins last year. That number gives him 34 points in 68 career games, a fine .50 points-per-game average. Putting Donato with two experienced forwards could allow him to reach 20-25 points or better in 2019-20.
The Fourth Line
This line, if constructed, would be Minnesota’s most exciting line by far. Greenway has tons of potential at 6’6″ 227 with the ability to skate and handle the puck. He scored 12 goals and 24 points in his first full NHL season.
Kunin is another exciting youngster with a high ceiling. The 15th overall selection in 2015, Kunin scored 17 points in 49 games last season. He also scored 20 points in 28 games with AHL Iowa. He and Greenway together look like a very strong combination with third line potential if injuries or ineffectiveness strike others.
Free agent acquisition Hartman joins the young duo in this projection. Hartman has bounced around a bit in his 5-year career but has still contributed 89 points in 245 regular season games. He scored 26 points in 83 contests last year. His experience gives him a slight edge to move up the depth chart, but his big value is grit and toughness on the penalty kill line.
The Wild also have some less skilled options in the case of major injuries. J.T. Brown played in 56 contests last season, scoring eight points and contributing 99 hits. Trade acquisition Victor Rask had a very poor start to his time in Minnesota with just 3 points in 23 games and is under contract through 2021-22. He has fallen far from his 45-point 2016-17 season and needs to rebound fast. Otherwise, the team’s best prospects are largely teenagers picked in the most recent drafts and need time to develop.
What This All Means
The Minnesota Wild lines have the experience, but production thins out significantly after the top line. The team needs big improvements from players like Eriksson Ek, Greenway, Kunin, and Donato if they are going to remain respectable Central Division. We are likely seeing the organization enter a rebuild for the next several seasons.