Last season for the Minnesota Wild was their most successful regular season in franchise history. The Wild were the second best team in the Western Conference and posted team records for both points (106) and wins (49). Breakout performances by young players Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, as well as fantastic offensive seasons from veterans Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu, gave the franchise its most productive year in terms of goal-scoring since their inception in 2000.
Unfortunately for the Wild and their fans, this regular season success did not transfer to the playoffs. Once again the Wild were bounced in the first round just as they were the season before. Despite five consecutive playoff appearances, the Wild have yet to make it past the second round. In fact, despite 17 seasons in the NHL, the Wild have only been to the Western Conference Finals once. That one appearance was the 2002/03 Cinderella team that defeated the dominant Colorado Avalanche team, but went on to get swept out by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
This season, the Wild want a different result. The roster turnover going into the new season shows that General Manager Chuck Fletcher needs to see more from his team. Fletcher went big at the trade deadline last season, giving up a lot for veteran center Martin Hanzal in a deal that was not received well. He has made up for it this offseason with the signings of Matt Cullen and Kyle Quincey that should solidify the depth on both ends of the ice.
Fletcher’s best move of the offseason was the trade with the Buffalo Sabres that sent Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella out in exchange for forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Losing Scandella was unfortunate, but the Wild have the defensive depth to handle his loss, and getting rid of Pominville’s large contract was worth it. Fletcher also deserves credit for losing neither Matt Dumba nor Jonas Brodin to the Vegas Golden Knights via the expansion draft.
The biggest improvements for the Wild this season will be to give increased roles to promising young players like Joel Eriksson Ek and Gustav Olofsson. Eriksson Ek is a highly touted prospect who had seven points in the last 15 games of the regular season last year. He is likely to center the third line to start the season, but do not be surprised if he gets chances further up in the lineup as the season rolls on.
For the Minnesota Wild, the main core has remained intact. The top two lines both on offense and defense remain mostly untouched, and Devan Dubnyk will continue to man the crease. However, for a team that has underperformed during the second half of the season and into the playoffs for the past few seasons, retooling the depth of the roster could bring exactly the success this team has waited for. If the core can continue the play of last season and the new replacements can take a step up, the Wild could be looking to finally get past the dreaded round two.