Minnesota Wild for the Wild
The State of Minnesota is one of the best when it comes to Hockey. It’s passion for the game is very similar to that of a Canadian Province. Despite the fact the NHL overexpanded, they did do the right thing bringing back a team to Minnesota. And they have not disappointed. The Wild are among the tops in attendance and have great support not only in the city they play in but in the entire State. And they should show their support. The Wild have one of the better up and coming teams around.
Much of the thanks should go to GM Doug Riesbrough. He has done a terrific job building the team from the ground up and showing excellent patience in developing the team’s prospects. He found the right guy too in Jacques Lemaire to help teach these youngsters. Despite a final four finish, the Wild have stayed the course and in their short history have build a quality young franchise that should be competitive for years to come.
One thing the Wild have done well is build a strong group of role players. Wes Walz is one of the league’s top checking centres. Richard Park has developed into a top penalty killer thanks to his great speed. Alex Henry is one of the better rovers as he can play decent at both forward and defence. Matt Johnson is a top tough guy in the league and has been a good leader for the Wild. Marc Chouinard is a very good faceoff man with good size. The Wild did a great job adding one of the beter two way players around in Brian Rolston. He should fit in perfectly as he has played for Lemaire in the past. He will also provide something the Wild have not had much of and that is scoring. The only true offensive player they have is Marian Gaborik. He is one of the league’s top offensive stars however he cannot do it alone. The steady Pascal Dupuis is the only other forward capable of a 20 goal season.
But here is where the Wild’s building blocks are projected to help out. Mikko Koivu should be now ready for the Wild after a few years over in Europe and some time down in the AHL. He has all the skills much like his brother Saku Koivu of the Habs but is bigger in size. If he turns out to be like Saku then the Wild have struck gold with this prospect. Rickard Wallin has taken a while to develop but if he can prove he is an NHLer, he may be the kind of playmaker the Wild need to play with Gaborik. Kyle Wanvig is also a young player who would give the team something it lacks: size and toughness. He too has developed a bit slower than expected but should at least be given a shot at making the team sometime next year. Pierre-Marc Bouchard made the team right out of the draft and has all the offensive tools to be a top flight player. but his lack of size and stamina wore him down and he has yet to proven he can handle the everyday NHL grind. He is a player who would benefit from rule changes that would open up the game.
The Wild have also built a solid defence. Their current top 4 should be around for a few more years. The Wild have stolen players like Filip Kuba, Andrei Zyuzin and Willie Mitchell from others. All 3 simply needed a place to play regularly. Kuba has developed into a solid PP QB and offensive catalyst back on defence. Zyuzin has been a decent two-way player and has been much more comfortable and less pressured in Minnesota. Lemaire has had plenty to do with turning around his career. Mitchell is considered one of the better shutdown blueliners in the league. After struggling to make a deep Devils team, Mitchell has not wasted his chance at plenty of ice time in all key situations. The 4th member of their top 4 is Nick Schultz. He may be the best of the bunch as he plays an excellent two way game similar to Nick Boynton in Boston. Their top two blueline prospects will need time to develop but should join the Wild at some point. Brett Burns is a converted forward who is still learning the position. He was put back there for his size and mobility. He should thrive playing under Lemaire and his low chance safe approach. AJ Thelen will have a huge following in Minnesota if he makes it as he is a local product. He is a solid defensive blueliner but is going to have to work on all parts of his game to succeed at the pro level. The Wild have several others such as Zbynek Michalek, Erik Reitz and Chris Heid giving the franchise some depth.
A position though that lacks depth is in goal. It has taken a while but Dwayne Roloson now is finally a number 1 goalie. Though he plays on a defensive minded team, his numbers show he can make a difference. How long he can maintain it remains to be seen as he is now 36. and in the foreseeable future there is no one yet ready to take over for him. Manny Fernandez is also in his 30s but has proven to be one of the better backups in the league. He may however leave via free agency leaving the Wild thin in goal. Josh Harding may follow a similar path to Roloson and Fernandez by taking a few more years that usual to make it to the NHL. Because he may not be ready, the Wild will have to look for another bonifide goalie.
But overall, we can see that the Wild have assembled a nice young team that will continue to grow. despite a short existence, the Wild have drafted well and made some smart moves in building their team. with Lemaire as coach, teaching these youngsters will not be a problem. There is little wonder why Minnesota are Wild for the Wild.