Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NHL 2011 Preview-Minnesota Wild

In just three days, we drop the puck on the 2011-12 (Year 11) Minnesota Wild Season. So in this post we will dive into looking back on their offseason, and we will look ahead to their season and ultimately where they will end up in April.

Offseason Moves

Coming In: RW Dany Heatley, RW Devin Setoguchi, C Darroll Powe, D Mike Lundin
Heading Out: RW Martin Havlat, D Brent Burns, LW Andrew Brunette, RW Antti Miettinen, RW Chuck Kobasew, G Jose Theodore

The Wild were very active this offseason, as GM Chuck Fletcher dealt first liners Havlat and Burns in separate deals to San Jose In return for Heatley, Setoguchi, RW Charlie Coyle, and C Zack Phillips. The Wild had to sacrifice their best d-man in Burns, but it was a move that will help out the team in the long run. I will admit, it would of been nice to see what Havlat and Burns could of done in the new system, but Fletcher felt they could best help the team by trading them. It was a very bold offseason for Fletcher, and hopefully for him, its one that pays off in the long run.

Projected Lines
(Stats Listed are from the 2010-11 Season)


Dany Heatley-Mikko Koivu-Devin Setoguchi

Guillaume Latendresse -Matt Cullen- Pierre-Marc Bouchard (11-3-3-6)-(78-12-27-39)-(59-12-26-38)

Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck

Colton Gillies-Eric Nystrom-Brad Staubitz

Reserves: Eric Johnson (4-1-2-3), Brett Bulmer (57-18-31-49 in WHL)


Greg Zanon-Marek Zidlicky

Nick Schultz-Marco Scandella

Mike Lundin-Jared Spurgeon

Reserves: Clayton Stoner (57-2-7-9), Justin Falk (22-0-3-3)


Starter: Niklas Backstrom (22-23-5-2.66-.916)
Backup: Josh Harding (DNP-Torn ACL)

Reserves: Matt Hackett (23-16-2-2.37-.916 in AHL)

Mike Yeo: The 3rd Head Coach In Wild History

Back in early September, I did a post on Mike Yeo. In the video below, you can see what he is going to try and establish with this team. He wants a team that gives a full effort every night. He wants a team that will pay attention to the details. He wants to have a team that will be aggressive, physical, and structured. And most of all, he is going to try to establish an identity with this team. Yeo had been an assistant in Pittsburgh before coming to the Houston Aeros last season, so having that knowledge of what it takes to win from behind the bench will be very key for the Wild. When the Wild hired Todd Richards two years ago, I thought they got it right. I had thought they had someone they will have behind the bench for a while. Boy, was I wrong. And here I am again saying they got it right. I believe Yeo is the right hire for the Wild. He took the Houston Aeros from a 7th place finish, to a 2nd place finish and a date in the Calder Cup Finals. And I believe, he can translate that same success to the Wild this season.

Players That Need To Step Up

Matt Cullen
As you can read from his stats up top, Cullen had a awful first year with his hometown team. Out of the 39 points Cullen scored last year, just 14 came at even strength. That was tied for 388th best in the NHL. That is just plain awful, from a guy who is being paid three and a half million a year. If the Wild have good success this year, they need much much more from Cullen. If Latendresse and Bouchard can stay healthy and on his wings, there should be no issues with Cullen putting up better numbers than last year.

Guillaume Latendresse
Last year, we all heard about how Gui showed up to camp out of shape. It was so bad, the winger could only play in 11 games last year. Not exactly the greatest thing to do, when trying to lock down a contract for longer than two years. But this year, he showed up to camp much slimmer and looked much better in the preseason. He will be relied on to provide that secondary scoring, that he gave us in 09-10 when he came out of nowhere to score 25 goals in 55 games after being traded to us from Montreal. And with the pass happy Bouchard and Cullen on his line, Gui should have no issues putting 20-25 goals in the net this year.

Marek Zidlicky
When the Wild acquired Marek Zidlicky prior to the 08-09 season, they got a really great offensive defenseman. In his first season, he put up a 12-30-42 line (the 12 goals were 8th best in the West). But, in the offseason Jacques Lemaire left and Todd Richards came in, and Zidlicky really hasn't been the same since. In the 124 games Zidlicky played under Richards, he posted a line of 13-54-67 and was -22. So hopefully, a change behind the bench is what he needs. Because with the loss of Brent Burns, the Wild need someone to step up and put up good offensive numbers from the blueline. And that someone should be Marek Zidlicky.

Niklas Backstrom
Mike Yeo's new aggressive system is really going to test his defense and goalies. So, he will need his #1 goalie, Niklas Backstrom, to step up his game this year. Last year, Backs put up mediocre numbers, while also battling injuries for a brief part of the year. Backstrom, much like Zidlicky, has seen a drop in numbers since the departure of Lemaire. His GAA took a jump from the 2.3's to the 2.7's, and his save percentage dropped from the .920's into the .900's & .910's. For a guy who is being paid $6 million, its about time we see the Backstrom that helped the Wild win the Northwest division three years ago. You hope he can return to that form, otherwise the Wild may need to start looking for a better/cheaper option between the pipes.

5 Prospects That Will Impact the 2011-12 Season
No, this list will not include Mikael Granlund or Jonas Brodin. They are the top prospects the Wild have, but they won't be anywhere near the State of Hockey in 2011-12.

Marco Scandella-D
If anyone stuck out with me, as to who had a great preseason, it was Marco Scandella. He looked very sharp on the blue line as he played in all 6 games this preseason. He won't put up big time offensive numbers, but he could very well put up big time minutes for this team going forward. So in essence, he is a young Nick Schultz. Look for Scandella to play most of, if not all of, this season with the Wild this season.

Nate Prosser-D
If a defenseman gets hurt for the Wild this year, Nate Prosser will be the first one to get the call up. He is very similar in size and ability to Scandella, but the edge on most things would still go to Scandella. Prosser projects to be a second line blue-liner, at most. He is solid defensively, but offensively he won't be expected to put up much numbers. He has played very well for the team since being signed out of Colorado College following the 09-10 season.

Casey Wellman-F
Like Prosser, Casey Wellman would be the first forward called up if someone went down with injury. Wellman was another of the Wild's undrafted college signees, as he came out of UMass following the 09-10 season. Wellman is only 6'0" and 173 lbs, so he will need to rely on his speed and stick handling to remain on the team, should he get the call up. Wellman can put up 20+ goals in a season if he can stay healthy. And that is they key for him: Keeping him on the ice.

Matt Hackett-G
Matt Hackett would not of been in this post had I made it two days ago. But, due to an injury to Josh Harding, Hackett got the call up and will probably be up here a few games before returning to Houston. Hackett has only been in pro hockey for just one season, and he is already third on the Wild depth chart in the goaltending area. As you saw from his stats above, he had an impressive year with Houston as their #1 goalie. Hopefully, Backstrom and Harding can stay healthy so Hackett can stay down in Houston and get another season of being the #1 under his belt. But, if called up, he should do just fine.

Brett Bulmer-F
When the final roster cuts came after Friday's game against Edmonton, Brett Bulmer surprisingly did not see his name. He became the first player from the Wild's 2010 draft class to crack the big club. Last year with Kelowna of the WHL, Bulmer had improvements on all his stats from the previous year. He also posted 109 penalty minutes last year, and the year prior he had 95. He is the aggressive, physical type that Yeo is wanting to see from his players. And with Bulmer's very strong preseason, it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise to see him make this team out of camp. Look for Bulmer to get minutes on the third and fourth line this year.

Where They'll Finish
It's really tough trying to bolt down where this team will finish. I believe this can be a playoff team. But, their final couple of preseason games were really disheartening. The team could not hold a third period lead, and ended up with losses against St. Louis and Edmonton because of it. There will be growing pains with the new system from new Head Coach Mike Yeo. There will be growing pains from the young defensemen trying to step up and play big minutes from this team. The offense should begin to pick up and be a solid improvement from last year with the new additions. But ultimately, I believe this team will be on the outside looking in next April, as they end up being the last team out of the playoffs. The West is just filled with so many good teams, I can't put the Wild in there just because they are my favorite team. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong here. So here's to hoping the Wild can do just that in 2011-12.

Tomorrow, I will have my final NHL 2011 Preview post, as I recap the division winners, pick the 16 playoff teams, award winners, and of course pick the Stanley Cup winner.

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