The Minnesota Wild rebuild is approaching. They are still last in the Central Division despite winning two of their previous four games. They are old, slow, and lack true difference-makers at several key positions. A haphazard offseason did them no favours in a competitive Western Conference and the current outlook is bleak. How does the team approach such a difficult process after years of sustained relevance?
Three Steps Involved in the Minnesota Wild Rebuild
Step 1: Embrace Youth
The Wild have started to do this in stages. Last year saw them trade Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato. Those two are expected to play some role over the next few years as the farm system is restocked. The team appears willing to try them in more aggressive roles as 22-year-old Luke Kunin saw his highest power-play ice time of the year in its most recent game against the Montreal Canadiens. The same went for Jordan Greenway, yet another of Minnesota’s young players to watch this year. The team needs to rely on its younger players as the team’s old guard, Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, etc. do not seem capable of keeping up for long stretches of play. The older players have not done a very good job maintaining possession at even strength except for Koivu.
This young movement has extended to older players who have relatively little experience. Minnesota called up Gerald Mayhew and Gabriel Dumont as bottom-six options. Both are in their upper-20s but have the organization’s attention after several skaters suffered injuries in recent games. More opportunities could become available for prospects as things progress. Nico Sturm is a particularly interesting bottom-six option with a 6’3″ frame and several strong years with Clarkson University. Sturm scored 103 points in 118 games as an NCAA skater and has two goals and three points in six games with AHL Iowa.
Step 2: Consider Unpopular Trades
Minnesota doesn’t have too many trade assets that jump off the page. Jason Zucker was on the block for much of the summer but is still on the roster. He is the Wild’s most valuable asset with a modest $5.5 million cap hit through his age-30 season. That is a very reasonable figure for a forward who has scored at least 21 goals in three straight years. Zucker is off to a similar pace in 2019-20 with three goals n eight games. He could fetch a solid return in terms of picks or prospects from the right buyer.
The team should also consider moving Jonas Brodin. That move would come off as deeply unpopular considering Brodin has spent his entire eight-year career as a Wild. However, Brodin doesn’t provide much value as a scorer and his most consistent contribution is as a shot-blocker. His $4.17 million cap hit for the next two years could go towards acquiring someone of real significance on the free-agent market. The Wild could trade both Zucker and Brodin and still be well above the salary floor of $60.2 million.
Step 3: Focus on Next Year
Minnesota’s veterans and fanbase are too proud to admit defeat in October but they should set their sights on the 2020-21 season. The talent isn’t there to suggest a St. Louis Blues-like run this season. They are already six points out of a wild card spot and are in arguably the toughest of the four divisions.
There are still advantages to being a bad team. The Wild would have the second or third-best odds of winning the top pick in the 2020 draft if current standings held through the rest of the season. Teams who have little chance at the playoffs are already watching top prospect Alexis Lafreniere tear up the QMJHL with Rimouski. He is considered a generational talent on the wing and should go first overall almost regardless of who picks at that spot. The draft is the easiest way to acquire talent and the 2020 draft is very solid at the top with regards to forwards.
Minnesota would love to pair Lafreniere on one wing with another exciting skater in Kirill Kaprizov. Kaprizov has been dominating play in Russia for years and fans are eager to see the 2015 selection live in North America.
The team’s immediate future is dim but if they can sell and refocus on next year, things could brighten up. The Minnesota Wild rebuild could start anytime in the coming weeks.