Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The 2014-15 Minnesota Wild: Defense

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune
The Wild were expected to take a step forward on the defensive side of things in 2013-14. They signed Keith Ballard and youngsters Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, and Marco Scandella were expected to progress and be big factors for the Wild.

Spurgeon and Scandella did become a solid second pair for the team, but Jonas Brodin experienced a bit of a sophomore slump and Keith Ballard continued to look like the defenseman who was bought out in Vancouver. They were also incredibly weak on the back end of their defensive pairings as Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner slotted in as the third pair down the stretch and in the playoffs.

As a unit, they weren't overly one of the best at scoring in the league. In fact, they were one of the worst.

Five on five scoring numbers via Progressive Hockey
But good news! There is another youth movement on the way.

Matt Dumba and Christian Folin have made the team on the third defensive pairing out of camp, and Gustav Olofsson will start the season down in Iowa and could potentially get a look on the Wild this year if he excels in Iowa.

Dumba, the Wild's first round pick in the 2012 Draft, has shown his great skillset in the WHL the past few years and now is poised to get a nice long look in the NHL. He has shown is offensive, defensive, and physical abilities this presesason which was enough to get Mike Yeo to keep him here. Folin may not have the great offensive abilities that Dumba has, but he makes the smart play time and time again, which is a big reason why he is here out of camp.

At the top we have the iron horse, Ryan Suter. He averaged 29:24 of ice time last season and was the Wild's top scoring defenseman with 43 points. His ice time is concerning heading into 2014-15 but if a bottom pair of Dumba and Folin can succeed, Suter should have a bit less ice time this year. Suter's defensive partner for a majority of the year, Jonas Brodin, struggled for most of the season but he has looked sharp so far in preseason. The hope is that Jonas can take another shot or two during the game (his shot per 20 minute total was second worst on the team last year).

While Ryan Suter might be the most notable defenseman on the roster, Jared Spurgeon was arguably the best defenseman on the team last year. What he lacks in size he makes up for in puck possession and a more desirable goals for percentage. Spurgeon and Marco Scandella was arguably the best defensive pairing last year, and they were only matched by Suter-Spurgeon (thus proving that Spurgeon is preetty good).

Top defensive pairings via Progressive Hockey
The Wild appeared to have finally turned a corner on defense. They may have some growing pains with youngsters Dumba and Folin in the lineup, but in the end keeping them makes this team better. Keith Ballard and Nate Prosser are still around, but having them in the lineup daily would be a huge liability to this team.

If the front office/coaching staff can have some patience, they will be content with their defensive pairs for this season. Should Dumba and Folin need time in Iowa this year, better hope Chuck Fletcher can find a solid defenseman via trade.

Projected Pairings:
Extras: Ballard, Bickel, Prosser

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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