Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 Minnesota Wild.
2020-21 Minnesota Wild
Heading into the season, the Wild fired general manager Paul Fenton after he signed veteran forward Mats Zuccarello to a five year $30,000,000 contract ($6 million AAV). Former assistant GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins Bill Guerin had a tough task ahead of him after being hired as the Wild’s 3rd GM in three years.
Minnesota started the season as expected losing seven of their first eight games and finishing the month of October with a record of 4-9. The Wild continued to struggle as head coach Bruce Boudreau was leaning heavily on his veteran players, who were struggling at the time.
The Wild’s season took a turn as 23-year-old forward Kevin Fiala seemed to turn around his horrible start to the year around. The Wild were 7-3-1 in their past 11 games and had been knocking on the door for a wild-card spot with three games in hand on Arizona, in the weak Western Conference.
On February 10th, the Wild sent Jason Zucker to the Penguins for forward Alex Galchenyuk, prospect Calen Addison and a conditional first-round pick. Just four days later, Guerin fired Boudreau the morning after an embarrassing loss on home ice, blowing a 3-1 lead in a shootout defeat to the Rangers. Naming Dean Evason Interim Head Coach of the Wild on Feb. 14.
The coaching change and trade of Zucker propelled the Wild to an 8-2-0 record under Evason. Not only did the coaching change help the Wild but it massively helped Fiala. Since February 1st, Fiala was second in the NHL in goals with 14 and 3rd in points with 26 in just 19 games. His time on ice improved by an extra three minutes a night under Dean Evason.
The Wild ended up making the expanded 24-team playoffs but were eliminated in 4 games by the Vancouver Canucks, despite winning the first game.
Guerin had a very busy offseason where he moved Eric Staal, neglecting to resign Mikko Koivu, and moving youthful talent for expiring contracts and additional draft picks. From last year’s roster, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Luke Kunin, Ryan Donato, Alex Galchenyuk, Devan Dubnyk, and Nick Seeler are all on new teams. While bringing in Nick Bonino, Marcus Johansson, Nick Bjugstad, Cam Talbot, Andrew Hammond, Dakota Mermis, and Ian McCoshen. Wild also resigning Jordan Greenway, Nico Sturm, Kaapo Kahkonen, Jonas Brodin, Carson Soucy, and the big one in Signing Russian superstar Kirill Kaprizov.
Marcus Johansson – Nick Bonino – Kevin Fiala
Jordan Greenway – Nick Bjugstad – Kirill Kaprizov
Extra: Marco Rossi
Yes as of right now the Wild’s top six looks a little concerning especially with Bonino as the number one centre. Evason has coached Johansson before in Washington and loves his speed. Putting Bonino’s versatility and Johansson’s speed next to Fiala could really be a solid line. Greenway and Bjugstad’s size could really open a lot of lanes and space for Kaprizov to work his magic. Evason didn’t sound so keen on playing Kaprizov and Fiala together even strength but will certainly play the two on the power play together.
The bottom six could certainly change if the 2020-21 Minnesota Wild think their ninth overall selection Rossi is ready to play. Rossi would most likely slide into the Wild’s top six which would bump Bonino to the bottom six. Either way, the Wild have a very good bottom six. Foligno and Ek were some of the best defensive forwards in the league last year and certainly have the skills to repeat that. With Mats Zuccarello being out to start the year, Parise would add some significant scoring depth to the bottom six, but could definitely be interchangeable with Greenway.
Jonas Brodin – Matt Dumba
Carson Soucy – Brad Hunt
Extra: Calen Addison; Dakota Mermis
Analytically the Wild have had one of the defensive cores in the league for the past couple of years. Brodin has been one of the best defensive defenders in the league if not the best. Spurgeon is one of the better defensive defenders and Suter consistently putting up 45-50 point seasons. Matt Dumba flies under the radar a little for the Wild. If Dumba can put up a season as he did two years ago, the Wild will have another great season from the back.
There is been talk that maybe Addison would get a chance this year. The Wild are very deep at defence. Soucy would be in a lot of teams’ top four if he had the chance. Addison or Mermis get some time this year on the Wild’s back end since Soucy could be a perfect player for the Seattle Kraken to take in the expansion draft. I think it’s safe to say the Wild will get another great season out of their defenders.
Extra: Andrew Hammond
After a horrendous year out of the Wild’s goaltenders last season, Guerin made some changes to address that. Trading Devan Dubnyk to the Sharks, bringing in Cam Talbot on a three-year deal worth $11 Million. They also extended 2019 AHL Goaltender of the year in Kahkonen to a two-year two-way deal.
They also dismissed Minnesota Gophers Alumni Matt Robson. Minnesota also signed 2019 2nd round pick Hunter Jones to an entry-level deal. He’ll man the crease for the Iowa Wild. It was reported veteran goaltender and Minnesota native Alex Stalock got hurt before camp this season and will be out for quite some time, which opened the door for Kahkonen to be Talbot’s backup. Guerin also brought back Hammond to a one-year deal as the Wild’s third goalie.
Players to Watch
Johansson could be a total bounce-back candidate player for the Wild. Last year Johansson recorded 9 goals and 30 points for the Buffalo Sabres in 6o games. Johansson has an opportunity to play alongside either Kaprizov, Fiala or both on the power pla. A change of scenery and his former coach Dean Evason could certainly spark a bounce-back year for Johansson.
Rossi looks like he is ready to compete in the NHL and is definitely built to play. It is up to the Wild’s management to decide to use Rossi in the NHL or not. However, if he does get a chance to play, he will make a strong impact up the middle. Rossi, the Wild’s 2020 9th overall pick is a two-way center with elite offensive upside. The 5-9 forward battles extremely hard along the boards and for loose pucks, making him a definite player to watch.
Prediction for 2020-21 Minnesota Wild
The 2020-21 Minnesota Wild are a very interesting team. They have no real star power at arguably the most important position(center) but some star power at the wings in Kaprizov and Fiala. The Wild are in a favorable Divison and will likely be middle of the pack.. In a 56 game season, they’ll likely get the last playoff spot in the new Pacific Division.
The Wild are in a transition year, a rebuild so to speak. There aren’t expectations for this team to go far. However, there also aren’t expectations for this team to finish at the bottom of the league. Then again the Wild could be a sneaky team, with their new full-time head coach, young superstar winger in Kaprizov. A breakout year from Fiala last year and Talbot and they could turn some heads in the playoffs. However, it won’t be a deep run for the 2020-21 Minnesota Wild.
All stats coming from NHL.com