Some things change while others remain painfully the same. Or wash, Rinse, repeat and repeat and repeat kind of seems to be the natural pattern with the Minnesota Wild organization. This time, with a revamped roster the team again flamed out badly in the 1st round and hasn’t advanced beyond that level since 2015. However I must admit I’m torn. It was still a one-and-done playoff ‘run’ for the Wild, but you have to admit the signs seem to be pointing in a positive direction. Competent goaltending, some resiliency and young skill still showed promise in this series.
In full disclosure I started this post-gamer shortly after Game 4 when it looked like the series was going to come to an abrupt end. Yet the Wild didn’t just roll over and they battled back to force it to Game 7. Ultimately, the Wild seemed to get worn down as injuries piled up and they just didn’t have enough to overcome what they were missing. Also, I had Vegas winning this series in 6 games in my NHL Bracket Challenge that I’m in. As much as it probably is painful for the Wild players at this moment, they have lots to feel good about.
So what have we learned?
1. Joel Eriksson Ek breakout season wasn’t limited to the regular season ~ Analytics darling and all around solid two-way center was the team’s leading and perhaps only player that could really be called a ‘scorer’ in this most recent Wild’s post-season run. Joel Eriksson Ek had the game winning tally in their lone victory and played well at both ends of the ice. He is set to be a restricted free agent this summer and I think he’s going to command a healthy raise from the $1.48 million salary he currently has. Eriksson Ek’s game isn’t sexy, but its effective and this season he demonstrated there may be a lot more offensive potential than many of us thought was possible. Let’s just hope after he has his payday, that upward trend continues.
2. Kevin Fiala needs help ~ Beyond Cam Talbot, if there is any player who could probably sue the club for a lack of support and win, its the talented ‘gamebreaker.’ I thought Fiala did about all one could ask of him to do in the playoffs as he tried to will for himself scoring chances and opportunities only to be continually thwarted by Marc-Andre Fleury. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort and it wasn’t confined just to the offensive zone. This player desperately deserves a quality center and other talented linemates to work with. The question is who could (could it be Jack Eichel and / or prospect Matt Boldy) that be and will the Wild have the cap space to afford that help but Fiala deserves better than what he had to work with this season. Give Fiala credit for looking less frustrated than he was a season ago in the team’s play-in series against the Vancouver Canucks.
3. Kaprizov took a little while to adjust but looked good late ~ If Fiala’s strong effort was undone by a lack of support, it seemed to be a different story for the team’s young Calder Trophy candidate in Kirill Kaprizov. Kaprizov looked overwhelmed by the increased speed of the game as well as the the extra physical intensity of post-season hockey. In Game 1 of the series, Kaprizov blocked a shot that had him wincing in a lot of pain on the Wild bench. After that he seemed like a shadow of himself and you didn’t see him smiling on the bench like he did all during the regular season. That along with the fact he was mostly neutralized by Vegas. That caused some fans and media to speculate he may have been injured. The Golden Knights were very physical with him, but he seemed to be able to weather that kind of attention in the regular season but this time he seemed to be brushed aside more easily and wasn’t able to skate through the checks like he once was. Yet as the series would go on, Kaprizov found ways to make an impact and find his way onto the scoresheet. He still didn’t have the time and space he used to dangle past solo defenders as the Golden Knights often sent two players to try to eliminate the shifty Russian. He too could probably benefit by playing with a more skilled (and faster) center as well.
4. We’ve probably witnessed Zach Parise’s last game as a member of the Minnesota Wild ~ I know this has been said by the Athletic‘s Michael Russo and others, but really does seem like a separation has to take place between the organization and its alternate captain. From being made a scratch as punishment for extending a shift and possibly costing the team a victory in the regular season to the multiple games spent as a healthy scratch down the stretch and playoffs its clear the team has moved on from the 36-year old winger. At a post-game press conference after Game 4’s 4-0 loss, with a nasty cut on his lip, you could see the 1,000-yard stare of a player whose mind has to be swirling as he contemplates his future even though he’s under contract for the next 4 seasons. One thing is certain, he doesn’t want it to end like this. I will admit, Parise showed a lot of fire in the last few games and was back to being pesky near the opponents goal and tallied some key goals to send this series to a Game 7. Was he playing to show the rest of the league he still is worth a roster spot or was he trying to win one with the Wild? Probably a little bit of both. Still, I think he’d entertain just about any offer to go and try to continue his career somewhere else. How that will happen is anyone’s guess and no doubt it will be a pretty tough sell.
5. The Wild’s performance raises more questions than it provides answers ~ For as much success the team enjoyed during the regular season, you had a feeling the organization was finally starting to establish an identity of sorts. Most of that seemed to disappear in the post-season as the team was thoroughly outworked and outplayed by Vegas. I think for most of the players the team has that are set to become unrestricted free agents are probably going to be jettisoned. So for Nick Bjugstad, Marcus Johansson, Nick Bonino and Ian Cole I don’t think they will be kept around which will open up more spots for either free agents or younger players to fill those roles. I think the team had hoped one or more or these players would emerge to prove they were worthy of another contract I don’t think any stood out quite enough to make that happen. The hope was their playoff experience (and Stanley Cup success) would help this team be more than a one-&-done club in the playoffs, but that simply wasn’t the case. So that will make it a more of a challenge for Wild General Manager Bill Guerin to try to solve this latest playoff conundrum.
Still some of the shortcomings are painfully obvious. This team desperately needs at least one (if not more) Top 6 and perhaps another Top 9 center. And perhaps that’s your simple answer. The team has to address that problem no matter what and let the chips fall where they may. No one said the General Manager gig was going to be easy and I still think most Wild fans have a lot of confidence in Bill Guerin to get the job done.
Iowa Wild Report
Iowa Wild (17-13-4) 38pts 4th in AHL Central
13.9% Power Play (28th in the AHL)
81.3% Penalty Kill (16th in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #40 Gabriel Dumont ~ 12G 19A = 31pts
2. #43 Connor Dewar ~ 12G 11A = 23pts
3. #23 Mason Shaw ~ 8G 14A = 22pts
4. #2 Calen Addison ~ 6G 16A = 22pts
5. #18 Damien Giroux ~ 7G 12A = 19pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #55 Cody McLeod ~ 93 PIM’s
2. #40 Gabriel Dumont ~ 60 PIM’s
3. #29 Keaton Thompson ~ 48 PIM’s
1. #92 Hunter Jones (9-9-1) 3.50GAA .886%SP 2SO
2. #30 Dereck Baribeau (6-1-2) 2.54AA .914%SP
The Iowa Wild ended their season on Saturday, May 16th. The AHL decided against doing some kind of divisional playoff. Iowa Wild finished their season winning 5 of their last 6 games and seemed to have some good momentum going for them.
One player who was having an immediate impact was the arrival of Matt Boldy after the conclusion of his sophomore season at Boston College. Boldy was especially impactful on the power play even if the team did end up last in the league on the man advantage. Still, he had 6 goals and 18 points in just 14 games gave the Iowa a boost of offense it sorely needed. He really was showcasing some great chemistry with Mason Shaw late in the season. Shaw looked good after missing last season with season-ending knee injury a year ago.
Another player who had a decent finish was goaltender Hunter Jones. Jones was especially good in the last stretch of games. He had a pretty rough start to his AHL career, but he improved greatly in his rebound control and seeing the puck through traffic as the season went on.
Other young Wild prospects were put through their paces and didn’t look too out of place in their professional debuts. Calen Addison had a hot start with a few multi-point games but the flat lined. He logged big minutes for the Wild and had some growing pains but he demonstrated good poise at both ends of the ice.
On a similar note, Ryan O’Rourke ended up playing the entire AHL season because the Ontario Hockey League was never cleared to play. So the 18-year old defenseman got the unusual opportunity to play night after night against older players and he held his own. While his offensive numbers were nothing to write home about, but the fact he ended the season with a +2 rating is a good sign that he was responsible in his own end the ice. Daemon Hunt benefited from his time with Iowa before returning to Moose Jaw to captain the team and was its leading scorer from the Warriors’ blueline. He looked far more comfortable in his return to Iowa after his WHL season was over.
Up front, Damien Giroux quickly earned the trust of Iowa Head Coach Tim Army with his strong two-way game and showed us he could chip in offensively but also be used a lot on the penalty kill and in defensive zone draws. The same was true, for Connor Dewar who was one of Iowa’s most consistent scoring threats and showing the same kind of confidence we saw when he was an overage player with the Everett Silvertips.
Adam Beckman, the WHL’s leading scorer from a season ago got some time at the start of the AHL season and then went back to Spokane where he played fairly well for the Chiefs to return the last two games of the season. Beckman demonstrated his scoring touch, notching 3 goals, 5 points in 9 AHL games. Brandon Duhaime, who was robbed about half of the season due to injury had a good resurgence late in the season. The Parkland, Florida-native brings speed and grit and looks like a great fit as potential bottom 6 forward.
This edition of the Iowa Wild leaned more on its young players than its veteran ringers like it has the previous two seasons. Veterans like Gerald Mayhew, Gabriel Dumont, Cody McLeod and Matt Bartkowski still were helpful in rounding out the team but besides Dumont they were mostly supporting pieces. So from a development standpoint, the players who got time in Iowa made the most of it. Even college-groomed players like Nick Swaney and Bryce Misley looked serviceable in the handful of games they played.
Lastly, the team’s broadcast also is probably taking a step developmentally as Joe O’Donnell (most likely) takes over the radio play-by-play duties from Bob Kurtz and that means Ben Gislason will move into that role with the Iowa Wild after subbing for Joe during his short auditions with the big club this season. Kurtz has been the voice of the Wild since the beginning and his straight-forward approach is greatly appreciated and perfectly appropriate for a hockey-knowledgeable crowd. O’Donnell also has a straight-forward approach and I think the transition will be rather seamless. We would like to congratulate Bob on a terrific career and wish him all the best in retirement.
No matter what, thanks to all of you who have been reading our articles from Theresa Ferries or myself over the course of the 2021 NHL season. Thanks to @AngryFinn, @NostraKennius, @JiveMidnight, @THoen88, @BraveTheWild, @timnado, @MNFrostyBoy, @fanonit, @WarmingHouseDen, @WildBrazuca, @WildNation247, @Jodi_Halvy, @StateOfHoppy, @VISportsTalk, @Unionpipewelder, @marathononice, @WHENESOTA, @fanfivehockeyf1, @TheSotaPod, @MNJohan, @pantsboyusa, @SCSUHockey91, @NickMaxon, @SeanLikeConnery, @jlAdam43, @Bethbo_Beth, @jBushy19, @tysands42, @HockeyMom_Jody, @MOKOV65, @DEast2004, @lynxrattle, @daveyj6568, @Van_City_Nucks, @anthonykriens, @tpirkl, @stevesigstad, @HankLee89, @RockNikki and @mnwprospects and a special thanks to the fans over at the Wild board of the Hockey Forums as well to many others not mentioned here for helping spread the word on Twitter.