2016-17 Minnesota Wild Season Preview

Maybe its because he weather has warmed up a bit but for me it doesn’t quite feel like hockey season just yet.  However in less than a week we drop the puck on the 2016-17 NHL season.  The Minnesota Wild come into this season feeling pressure to make a push now as their expensive core players are all in their early 30’s.  There is a pronounced level of pressure for an organization that has made the playoffs the last 4 consecutive season but hasn’t been dangerous enough to make a serious Stanley Cup run.  No question that sense of urgency is what prompted the team to be bold in its coaching moves by bringing in a proven NHL bench boss Bruce Boudreau.

It hasn’t been without its share of bumps in the road.  For Boudreau, it probably started with his nightmarish move to Minnesota, to the frustration that so few younger players seemed to have the initiative to try to step up to go after a roster spot.  The players, including that aforementioned aging core are trying to get used to a mostly new coaching staff, new system and a new attitude.  With so many players being used in different roles than what they were in the previous administration, chemistry is starting to develop slowly and will no doubt evolve as the season goes on.

A few weeks ago, I asked some Wild fans what they expected to see from their favorite NHL club they were pretty candid in sharing their opinions.  So taking an approach similar to that of the Hockey News‘ annual ‘Yearbook’ let’s look at the team category by category.


By far this was the place where the most significant changes occurred.   The biggest upgrade to the club was behind the bench, where Bruce Boudreau is the Wild’s first veteran bench boss since Jacques Lemaire and he brings the credibility of past accomplishments that his predecessors lacked.  The hope is that credibility leads to more buy-in from a locker room that had gotten used to calling the shots.  I think there will still be some clashes of ego between Boudreau and some of the high salary veterans (i.e. Ryan Suter) but I don’t see this veteran bench boss backing down.  The team also brought in Scott Stevens and John Anderson as assistants, both solid ex-NHL players to instill that feeling of buy in.

The fresh perspective should result into more creative and intuitive roster decisions which seemed to be all too predictable and dogmatic under the previous coaching regime.  I expect to see greater accountability and hopefully that will bring about more consistency to a team that has been feast or famine all too often the last few seasons.


Up front the Minnesota Wild are mostly the same as the were a season ago where they are hoping to get bounce-back seasons from Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, and Jason Zucker after sliding production a season ago.  All of these forwards have to prove last year was an aberration rather than a trend.  Mikko Koivu started 2015-16 by shooting the puck more but tailed off a bit in the 2nd half and it will be interesting to see if he feels the green light to take more chances offensively.  The Wild hope Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund being moved to the wing will help make them more productive.  Coyle needs to show he can put up 20 goals again, especially if the veterans totals continue to lag.  Nino Niederreiter and Zucker will have a chance to prove they are good for 20 goals each which will help round out the Wild’s attack.  Erik Haula seemed to rekindle that 2014-15 playoff form in the 2nd half of last season and there is hope he can build his career best season from a year ago.

Eric Staal was the only major addition to the top 6 and will get prime minutes to prove he is worthy of that kind of ice time and opportunity.  Staal has looked good in pre-season and seems to have established some chemistry with Parise and Coyle.  The other notable off-season addition was Chris Stewart, who will likely find a spot on the 3rd or 4th line, but his presence is a confidence booster for a club that is known for being a bit squeamish of the rough and tumble play.  If Stewart can chip in 10 or more goals that would be a great bonus.  Christoph Bertschy and journeyman Zac Dalpe seems to be battling it out for the final forward spots after Tyler Graovac stumbled in pre-season action.  Bertschy isn’t big, but he’s pesky and isn’t afraid to work into the tough areas of the ice.

There was some discussion what to do with Joel Eriksson Ek who has showed some flashes of the skill that made him the Wild’s top pick in 2015, but he’s still 19 years old and still pretty slight.  He’d probably benefit from a short NHL regular season audition and then spend the rest of his time back playing with Farjestad of the Swedish Eliteserien.  Alex Tuch, Kurtis Gabriel, Sam Anas and others will be the beneficiaries of big minutes and opportunity in Iowa.


Arguably the strongest part of the team is on the backend where the team has a plethora of defenseman coming into their prime.  Led by Ryan Suter the Wild blueline is more of a finesse driven defense corps that wins battles with poke checks and the ability to start the rush with a good first pass.  Jared Spurgeon was given a 4-year contract extension that will pay him $5.18 million per season, but his value at both ends is arguably as great as any defenseman the Wild possess.  His ability to move the puck and having Jedi-like hockey sense to read the play that allow him to thrive despite being tiny.  Spurgeon can also contribute offensively and I think Boudreau will use him more in an offensive role as he did Sami Vatanen (a player of similar stature and game) in Anaheim.  Marco Scandella, Mathew Dumba and Jonas Brodin should also see their ice time and role increased if for any reason to significantly reduce the minutes Suter has played the last few seasons.

Even though it looks as though Nate Prosser will be the team’s 6th or 7th defenseman it remains to be seen if Mike Reilly or Christian Folin will remain with the big club.  Reilly is still mistake prone and he had a roller coaster of a pre-season.  Folin provides some size and strength that could be useful and its now or never from the former UMass-Lowell star.  Gustav Olofsson will lead the way in Iowa where he must prove he can stay healthy after two injury-ravaged campaigns in a row.  It is my hope Folin gets the opportunity to be the Wild’s 3rd pairing defender and Prosser is relegated to being the guy who fits in if someone gets hurt.


Minnesota would probably like to lean a bit less on goaltender Devan Dubnyk, but it will probably end up giving their 6’6″ workhorse over 68 starts this season.  Dubnyk wasn’t quite as sharp as he was in 2014-15 when he was a Vezina finalist, at times he seemed to sit back in his crease more and he was more susceptible to giving up the ‘soft’ goal.  Unfortunately, Darcy Kuemper seems to be fragile both physically and mentally.  Whenever the team really seemed to need him to take the lead he has managed to get hurt in practice or been so shaky you went with a fatigued or sick Dubnyk instead.  Kuemper needs to demonstrate he can provide quality starts, so it will encourage Boudreau and company to give Dubnyk some meaningful rest, especially on back-to-back games.  Former South St. Paul Star Alex Stalock who has some NHL experience, along with Stephen Michalek and Hungarian Adam Vay will be manning the crease in Iowa but neither is ready to make the jump.

Special Teams

Even from the Minnesota Wild’s Town Hall Meeting it was clear fans wanted to know how this club was going to improve its power play and penalty kill which finished near the bottom of the league.  Boudreau dodged being too specific about what changes he’d implement beyond saying that he would stick with whatever grouping of players was getting the job done.  That in itself was refreshing from the previous regime’s dogged approach to doing the same thing over and over and hoping for different results.  Hopefully this means less Suter and more Spurgeon and Dumba on the power play.  Hopefully it also means faster forwards being used on the penalty kill and in overtime.  Time will only tell precisely how Boudreau deploys these units but at this point we will take him at his word.  I expect to see an improved power play and penalty kill, as well as a 3-on-3 overtime unit that isn’t simply a turnover away from disaster.


I think the Minnesota Wild will finish 4th in the Central division with around 93-97 points.  Minnesota will be fortunate to advance beyond the 1st round of the playoffs if they make it at all.  I think the Wild will be improved and perhaps less prone to a mid-season swoon but I think they’re still limited in their ability to compete and beat the elite teams in the west.

2016-17 Schedule – Games of Interest

Thursday, October 13th vs. St. Louis Blues ~ The Minnesota Wild did a little bit better against the Blues next year, but over the summer they let David Backes and Brian Elliott go.  Now former Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo is the Head Coach in waiting while Ken Hitchcock is in his final season of coaching before he retires.  Will that mean the Blues will raise their game hoping to help their future coach earn a win over a victory his former club?

Saturday, October 29th vs. Dallas Stars ~ This is the Minnesota Wild’s first regular season game against Dallas after they were eliminated by the Stars a season ago.  Minnesota struggled mightily with Dallas last year where their speed and offensive firepower gave the Wild fits.  Will the Wild be able to turn the tables on Dallas this year?  This game should give us an idea as to how well they stack up.

Saturday, January 21st vs. Anaheim Ducks ~ It is Hockey Day Minnesota and with Head Coach Boudreau’s connections to the Ducks no doubt that will be a major story line going into the game.  Minnesota has performed pretty well on that day of celebration and no doubt the team might have a little extra motivation to do well.

Thursday, March 16th vs. Carolina Hurricanes ~ This will be Eric Staal’s 1st game back to Raleigh after being a franchise cornerstone for the previous 12 seasons.  Will they boo him or cheer him?  (my guess is he’ll get some cheers, not boo’s)

What games are you looking forward to?  Please leave a comment below or tell me about it on Twitter @StateofHckyNews!

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