Welcome to the latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. Each day, we will take a look at a new team and examine three of their potential breakout or bounce-back players. These players have the chance to make a serious difference with their teams this upcoming season. These players can be new faces or familiar ones looking to have a strong return to form. Each day we will be looking at a different team! Today we will take a look at the potential 2020-21 Minnesota Wild key players.
2020-21 Minnesota Wild Candidates
Over two years ago former Wild GM Chuck Fletcher signed Matt Dumba to a five-year, $30 million dollar ($6M AAV) contract extension. This extension was a reward for Dumba’s breakout season in 2017-2018 where he notched 50 points on the blue-line for the Wild. Not only was this a reward for Dumba but a positive move for the Wild’s franchise going forward.
In Dumba’s first season following his extension, he led all defenders with 12 goals in 32 games. Also notching 22 points in that span. It seemed like Fletcher’s decision to extend Dumba long-term was paying off. Adding on to Dumba’s extreme offensive start to the season he was having himself his best defensive season as well. Physical and mean as always Dumba was tops in the league for defenders with hits. A true all-around player and someone the Wild were building their team around. Unfortunately for Dumba and the Wild he suffered a season ending injury in a fight with Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk where he tore his right pectoral muscle.
Reason for Optimism
Dumba started his first season back from his 2018-19 season-ending injury with a bang. He scored a goal against the Predators to open the 2019-20 season but soon went missing after that. The 2012 seventh-overall pick started to struggle heavily both defensively and offensively to start the season after his strong first game. Laying big hits and firing hard snapshots has been how the 2020 King Clancy Award winner has played his whole career, but both those aspects were a moot point in 2019.
Some believe Dumba’s upper-body injury he suffered two seasons ago has changed him into a different player. Wild fans believe Dumba is a little too cautious to play the game he used to play (heavy hitting hockey) resulting in him from shying away from hits.
The right-shot defender is 26 and still certainly has the potential to turn into that 2018-19 player he was before his injury. When players sustain season ending injuries they usually need a month or a year to get back to that normal play, making Matt Dumba the perfect bounce-back candidate.
In player meetings following the Wild’s exit from the 2020 playoffs, Jordan Greenway was approached by management and was told he needs to be better and step up. Greenway has the size and potential to be a very skilled two-way forward in the National Hockey League. Greenway’s potential has been seen in stretches, he will look unreal in a two week span then look like a completely different player for a month. Something that really makes fans and management pull their hair out.
Following an 2019-20 campaign that had him reach a career high with 28 points in 67 games for the Wild. Greenway’s 2019-20 season had a mixed performances, playing up and down in the lineup, from first line, playing nearly 18 minutes a night along side skilled winger Kevin Fiala to all the way down playing on the fourth line, and playing fewer than 12 minutes.
Reason for Optimism
The 6’6″ winger signed a two-year $4.2 Million ($2.1 million AAV) just over a month ago. A bridge deal none the less for Greenway. The former second-round pick is only 23 years old and has only played 154 career games in the NHL but some believe this could be Greenway’s last straw with the Wild. The question everyone is asking is, will Greenway be able to live up to the big time power forward label that he has been pegged with for a couple years now? Or will he continue down the path Charlie Coyle once had in Minnesota, a disappointing bottom-6 forward with loads of potential that was truly never showcased in a full season.
Wild GM Bill Guerin truly did a lot this offseason trying to get the full potential out of his big power forward Jordan Greenway by not only signing him to a 2 year extension but also, trading 2 young pieces out of the Wild’s forward core in Luke Kunin and Ryan Donato.
Greenway was at his best when he took part in the GEEK Squad — a line that included himself, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Luke Kunin. Without Kunin this upcoming year Greenway will likely play along side Joel Eriksson Ek and newly acquired Nick Bjugstad. Evason and the Wild will hope to get the best out of Greenway this year and I believe by giving him an extension and trading 2 young forwards Greenway was competing with, it should open some doors for Greenway to display his full potential.
The 28 year old carries a $4.1 salary cap hit (which includes a $5.25 million base salary in a back-loaded deal). But in the trade that sent Bjugstad to Minnesota the Penguins will retain 50 percent of that deal. So the Wild will be paying $2.050 million for one for season.
Bjugstad’s tenure with the Penguins was very short and can be described as lackluster at best. Bjugstad came over in a trade from the Panthers with Jared McCann for forwards Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan in February 2019. Bjugstad only managed to score 10 goals and 16 points in 45 games with the Penguins over two seasons where he was plagued with a scary spinal injury. His back injury ended his 2019-20′ season short where he only played 13 games with a goal and assist for 2 points in the Penguins bottom-six.
Reason for Optimism
Nick Bjugstad is very familiar with the state of Minnesota, while playing for Blaine High School he was awarded with the 2010 Minnesota Mr. Hockey award. Bjugstad then stayed in his hometown playing three seasons at the University of Minnesota before turning pro with the Florida Panthers.
Bjugstad is fully healthy and ready to go following his back injury and surgery which was the same as his teammate Zach Parise had in his career. The 6 foot 6 forward needed a change of scenery when he left Florida but couldn’t find a home in Pittsburgh. Playing on an expiring deal, Bjugstad will come home to Minnesota and try to bounce back with the Wild and earn himself a deal to have him stay in his hometown. Minnesota seems like a perfect place to finally get back to his old self, playing with 2 very good defensive forwards in Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway.
If Bjugstad can stay healthy, he vertically has the potential to become a great bounce back player for the Wild. If it doesn’t work out for Bjugstad and the Wild, Minnesota isn’t really losing a lot based on the fact Bjugstad will be a un-restricted free agent following this year as well as only giving up a seventh-round pick for him.