MN Wild: To Live and Die by The Young Guns.
By: Tony Dean @AWKD
For the Minnesota Wild to compete in the newly formed Central Division they must have significant contributions from their heralded group of young prospects. General Manager Chuck Fletcher has been very clear since taking over as the Wild’s top personnel man that he was looking to build the Wild from within. The Wild will enter the 2013-14 NHL season with their youngest team on both their scoring lines and defensive pairings. All eyes are sure to be on which young player emerges as the second line center with the current candidates being Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, and Erik Haula. In Coyle the Wild have a twenty year old power forward with scoring touch and a high motor capable of battling in the corners and in front of the net. Coyle has been matched up with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu on the 1st line as a winger but to start training camp this season it has been priority to find out if Coyle can fill the role vacated by the departure of free agent Matt Cullen. If Coyle proves capable of being the 2nd line center, it will help determine roles of a number of other players primarily Granlund who in my opinion is better suited to play wing in the NHL because of his slight build. I also believe that Coyle and Granlund match up well playing on a line together. At this point the best case scenario for Fletcher and Yeo would be for Coyle to overwhelmingly win the role of second line center while having Granlund adjust to playing winger and find his game being the dynamic offensive player he has been in Finland and in international competition. Then for the Wild to have either Nino Nederreiter, Jason Zucker, or Dany Heatley complete that second line would mean the Wild have a very dangerous talented Top6 with a very capable 3rd line featuring players capable of playing Top6 minutes as well.
In trading Cal Clutterbuck for Nino Nederreiter it was huge grasp at potential and attaining a player with attributes that could not be found within the organization. Nederreiter is a player that has flashed potential and ability without having it translate to NHL success for numerous reasons. The Islanders have their own ideas on why Nederreiter wasn’t able to make their team and to give up on such a highly touted prospect speaks volumes for the adversity that Nederreiter has faced since being drafted 5th overall in 2010, the same draft Granlund and Coyle were also selected in the first round. Where Nederreiter ends up playing to begin the regular season will be a very important indicator of the potential this Wild team will have to complete and make a deep run. If Nederrieter can earn a role playing on the second line and earn the trust of Yeo to play Top 6 minutes it would mean the Wild’s 3rd line could shape up as Heatley, Zucker, and Kyle Brodziak. I think it is very lofty to think El Nino breaks camp on the second line but not out of the realm of possibility especially for a team that craves secondary scoring and lacks killer instinct and physicality out of their skilled players. I also don’t mean to dismiss the talent and potential of Jason Zucker as Wild fans and WCHA fans realize that he is electric on the ice and brings speed and a shooter mentality to the ice every game. Zucker profiles as a bit of a tweener with regard to where he fits on a line. Zucker has most definitely only scratched the surface of his potential in the NHL and has been asked to work on the defensive aspects of his game to make himself a more complete player. Make no mistake Zucker is a player that can carry and score the puck from the wing position and he will contribute this season as I believe his AHL career has ended after one year. The reason I gravitate towards the idea of Zucker on the 3rd line is that he excels in high energy fast paced hockey and he could wreak havoc and be a matchup nightmare for opponents. Yeo has taken issue with Zucker not being responsible enough in the defensive zone which if he is able to work it out could lead to more breakout offense for him. The wild card young forward is 1st year professional Erik Haula, who is a kid that arrived in Minnesota to play highschool hockey at Shattuck and then at the U. Haula is a talented center that earned top line minutes with the Gophers proving he could play a two-way brand of hockey that allowed him to compete with the best in college hockey. Haula’s play and development had to factor into Fletcher making Johan Larsson available in the Pominivlle trade. Haula is not a major factor to make the Wild roster out of camp but he will be in the Top6 for the Iowa Wild from game one of the season.
Although I am very hopefully that the Wild’s young forwards are ready to be every game contributors, it is their young blue line that will be leaned on heavily to begin the season. Last season Jonas Brodin was the youngest defensemen starting in the NHL. Brodin proved in his rookie campaign that he was capable of playing top pairing minutes in every situation and his pairing with Ryan Suter helped to stabilize a vulnerable defensive corps. Brodin in my opinion was the most deserving in consideration for rookie of the year after playing 30 minutes plus a game. For Brodin the sky is the limit for his game on the ice and he will be penciled into the top pairing with Suter to open the season. In Marco Scandella the Wild has never questioned his talent or ability to play in the NHL, it has always been a question of when he would find the confidence and focus in both ends to play an 82 game season. Scandella has been demoted for meltdowns in focus and confidence in both of the previous seasons only making it back to the NHL last season for the playoffs. Scandella has flashed top 4 pairing potential and is a strong 2 way defender who the Wild will need to take a step forward in his development this season. Scandella if things continue go well should be paired with another young talented defender Jared Spurgeon to beginning the year on the 2nd pairing. Spurgeon is a gifted player who excels creating offense with his passing and uses his smarts and hands to compensate for his slight build. If Spurgeon is going to be successful as a Top4 pairing defensemen at the NHL level he will need Scandella or whoever he is paired with to play a physical brand of hockey and keep opponents honest in front of the net. Spurgeon does shy from physical play and can throw his weight around but he has been taken advantage of by more physically imposing forwards in especially in the Western Conference. Spurgeon plays in all situations and has a very high level of compete. For the Wild to take a step forward Spurgeon will have to improve his play in the defensive zone especially against bigger teams that have previously camped out in the Wild’s zone with Spurgeon on the ice. Scandella and Spurgeon are very much tied to each other in taking the next step in their development. The Wild added offensive defensemen Jonathon Blum who is a player that has been highly thought of for his potential but yet to have it translate to success at the NHL level. Blum found himself on the outside looking in for Nashville when they lucked into drafting Seth Jones. Blum signed with the Wild on a 2 way contract and could find himself starting the season in Iowa. For Blum to break camp with the Wild he will need to beat out Nate Prosser for a spot. Blum if he is able to win a spot could find himself paired with Keith Ballard and Clayton Stoner on the third pairing which in my mind would represent potentially the best 3rd pairing for the Wild in a very long time. Blum is a player I have not seen play more than maybe twice but description of him seem to indicate he has NHL talent and if he finds a way to improve his consistency and defensive game, he could play meaningful minutes this year for the Wild.
Wild fans should be very hopeful that the team breaks camp with the young player I have mentioned above slated for important roles and heavy minutes this season. I think any fan of the Wild will agree that it is time for this team to be aggressive and entertaining every time they step on the ice and that will not happen if their young players don’t cease their opportunities. With the arrival of Parise and Suter last season it was shot across the bow of the mind numbing trapping defense one goal game hockey that was the Wild’s calling card. The time is now for the Wild to make a deep run and establish its place as a cup contender. Wild fans should finally be paid off this year for 10+ years of loyalty to the franchise!
Also I will be in attendance tomorrow from the open to the public training camp scrimmage and I will live tweet so follow me @AWKD
Just My Thoughts,