With the Minnesota Wild’s first game coming up on Oct. 8, many fans are wondering how the 2015-16 season will pan out. Will the Wild be a top team in the NHL? Will they make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year? If they do make the playoffs, how far will the Wild go? Obviously, it is too early to answer most of these questions, we will just have to wait and see what happens; but, like always, there are opinions circulating around, whether it’s from NHL critics, or just from fans. Although the Wild didn’t add many newcomers to the roster this offseason; and many NHL critics think that they will not make the playoffs this year, it would not be surprising if the Wild defied the odds, and made another playoff berth.
The Wild are known for being a young and talented team. They have many young, key players, such as Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund, whom have already had breakout seasons. These young guns will be a huge factor in whether or not the Wild make the playoffs this season. Zucker has proven to be an impact player, one who has a knack for scoring, as he had 21 goals in 51 games this past regular season. He has had a history of injury, but if he can stay healthy, he will most likely be one of the top scorers on the roster. Coyle and Niederreiter are also important players on the ice, as they can score goals, but can also set their teammates up. Brodin has demonstrated that he is an impact player, skating alongside Ryan Suter; and was even a Calder Trophy finalist during his rookie season. Granlund has previously proven his worth, as he has been a player the Wild look to since his rookie season in 2012.
The Wild have young players in their system who have yet to make an NHL debut, such as first round draft picks Alex Tuch and Joel Eriksson Ek; plus Mike Reilly, whom they signed to a contract earlier this summer. Tuch and Eriksson Ek probably will not make an NHL debut this season, but there is a strong possibility that Reilly may. Reilly was the top scorer for his college team, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, last season, which is impressive, but even more so because he is a defenseman. He is extremely talented in his ability to play offense, but also to stop his opponent from scoring. The Wild seem to always have difficulty putting the puck in the net, so another player who has that gift is always a good thing to have on the roster. On the other hand, they can always use another player who can help prevent their opponents from scoring.
It’s no secret that the Wild highly rely on their veterans’ performance. Players such as Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Devan Dubnyk have been their reason for success in the past, so if these guys can play well and provide leadership to younger teammates, the Wild could make a deep playoff run. Parise and Suter, who both signed long-term contracts with the Wild on July 4, 2012, have made a huge impact on the Wild’s success. The Wild have made the playoffs every year since Parise and Suter threw on their sweater, showing that these two have made a large difference on whether or not the team finds success. Both are known for having great leadership; Parise was even the captain of Team USA at the 2014 Olympics. Mikko Koivu is also known for having great leadership skills, as he has been the Wild’s captain since 2009. On top of their leadership skills, Koivu, Parise and Suter are all very talented, and are players that teammates look to in order to get things done on the ice. Vanek and Pominville are both players who have shown their ability to rack up points in the past, so if they play at their top level, it will positively influence the Wild’s winning record quite a bit. Devan Dubnyk; the team’s starting goaltender is also crucial to the Wild’s success. Before Dubnyk came to Minnesota last season, the Wild were struggling, and it was looking as if they wouldn’t make the playoffs. When Dubnyk was traded from the Arizona Coyotes, he turned the Wild’s season, and his career, around. His stellar play lead the Wild to the playoffs, and he was even named a Vezina Finalist. So, if these veteran players are on top of their game, the Wild have an increased shot at a playoff spot.
Quite possibly the only thing holding the Wild off from making another playoff berth is their tough division. The Central Division is easily one of the toughest – if not the toughest – division in the NHL. In their division is defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, who will likely be around until late in the playoffs again. The St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche, foes whom they have squared off against in the playoffs recently, are both very talented teams, as well. The Blues gave the Wild a run for their money in the 2015 playoffs, and there was many times it looked as if they may get defeated in the first round. Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues’ young gun, is never a fun guy to play against, as he has jaw-dropping talent, and has the ability to score important goals, even if just one small mistake is made. Although the Colorado Avalanche had a disappointing season, they are by no means a bad team, as they have many talented, young players. Matt Duchene, Tyson Barrie, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are players to watch, as is star goaltender Semyon Varlamov. On top of that, it doesn’t look like star veteran, Jarome Iginla, is slowing down anytime soon. The Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets are both very talented teams, despite their early playoff exits. The Predators were one of the top teams in the league last year, with many young players that showed their worth, such as Seth Jones, Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg. The Jets are one of the most underrated teams in the NHL, and will most likely be just as good, if not better than they were last year. They have talent all across the board, with players like Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Tobias Enstrom and Ondrej Pavelec. The Wild’s final foe in their division is the Dallas Stars, a team stacked with skill. Even though they did not make the playoffs last year, they are one of the most talented teams in the league. With players like Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the Stars are an offensive powerhouse. It doesn’t hurt that they have just added veteran star, Patrick Sharp, to their roster. If they can play better defense, they will most likely make it far into the playoffs, and could be Stanley Cup Champions within the next couple of years. So, clearly the Minnesota Wild have their work cut out for them this year, as there is no bad team in their division; all have the potential to make it to the playoffs, and it would not be surprising to see one of these teams as the 2016 Stanley Cup Champions.
Despite their tough division, it still wouldn’t be shocking to see the Wild make their fourth consecutive playoff appearance. They have veteran leadership and talent, plus a lot of young guns that have proven their worth; and some who are ready to have breakout years, as well. They have a solid goaltender and great defense, so if they can find a way to put the puck in the net, the Wild will be a threat out on the ice. The Wild cannot afford to play many bad games, as they will not have any easy wins. If everyone can play their parts, the Wild can defy NHL critics’ odds, and make the playoffs, once again.