Two seasons ago, the Wild were the worst scoring team in the league. They averaged just over two goals per game and had the most lifeless offense in the NHL. So how does Chuck Fletcher fix that lifeless offense? He totally retools the forward position by infusing the lineup with a good mix of veteran stars and young kids with vast potential.
Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Kyle Brodziak, and Jason Zucker (starting the season in the AHL) are the only remaining forwards on the team that were there at the end of that dismal 2011-12 season. That shows you how much turnover the roster has had in the two years since.
Minnesota's top line heading into this season is Zach Parise, Koivu, and Jason Pominville (all three are All-Star Game selections). The line had some time together at the end of last season when Pominville was acquired, but the line was so good it was split up to give a bit more depth to the rest of the lines. Behind the top line, scoring was hard to come by for the Wild last year (finished 24th in scoring).
A big difference for the Wild heading into this season, compared to other years, is the incredible depth the team has at forward. Heatley came into camp in outstanding shape and looks to bounce back from a bad 2012-13 season. Matt Cooke was brought in via free agency this summer to be a gritty third liner this team needs (he can also score some goals). Brodziak is still a solid third line center despite a forgettable season, last year.
But the depth for this team at forward truly comes from the young kids on the roster. Charlie Coyle played well at the end of last season and came into camp and just blew away the competition for the second line center spot. Mikael Granlund struggled in 2012-13 but worked incredibly hard in the offseason, had a great camp, and will start the season on the third line next to Cooke and Brodziak. Newcomer Nino Niederreiter (acquired for Cal Clutterbuck) impressed everyone in the preseason and looks to be a power forward the Wild badly need. He used his big 6'3" frame to cause problems for the opposition out front of the net, and earned the respect of his coach Mike Yeo, who just raved about the kid every day. Also don't forget about Justin Fontaine who tore up the AHL the past two years, as he finally gets his shot at the NHL on the teams fourth line to open the season, next to Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell.
In the event of injury or poor play, the team does have some options (Zucker, Erik Haula, Jake Dowell) in the AHL to call up.
Much like the defense, a lot of the success of the forward lines will depend on the young kids. They account for two-thirds of the second line, and will now start seeing power play time (sorry Brodziak, but this was inevitable). Its kind of a big situation for players entering their second season in the league.
Don't expect Minnesota to be the best goal scoring team in the league this season. They should be improved and more efficient, but they still are no Chicago or Pittsburgh.
If this team can start putting up 3 or more goals on a nightly basis, they can do good things this season.
Injured: Mike Rupp
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