In over a month, Halloween will be upon us. This seems like a strange start to the season preview of the state professional hockey team, but it’s related; the scariest costume to a Minnesotan is someone dressing up as Jake Allen. While I still have nightmares of Jake Allen making save after save against the desperate offense of the Minnesota Wild, I can move on knowing that it’s a new season with new Wild expectations.
Let’s start with some farewells; forwards Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder and Alex Tuch and defenseman Marco Scandella are no longer members of the Wild. Pominville and Scandella, along with a third-round pick, were shipped off to Buffalo in exchange for forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno and a fourth-round pick. Tuch was traded to the new expansion franchise Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a conditional third round pick, while Haula was picked by the Golden Knights in their expansion draft. Schroeder was involved in a swap with Columbus, in which the Wild acquired forward Dante Sullturo. The Wild loses two of its former Gophers; both Haula and Schroeder attended the University of Minnesota for collegiate hockey.
However, St. Cloud State alumnus Matt Cullen resigned with the Wild on a one-year contract. The three-time Stanley Cup champion joined amid rumors of retirement, and now could be expected to retire as a member of his hometown team. This signing, along with the acquisitions of Ennis, Foligno, and Sullturo, were all in efforts to boost forward depth while attempting to maintain as much of its high-powered roster from last season’s playoff team.
By making the playoffs last season, the Wild have now reached the postseason in five consecutive seasons, starting with the 2012-2013 lockout-shortened season. However, they have yet to reach the Western Conference Finals in that period of time, creating doubt as to whether this team is actually a contender for the Cup or not.
One reason this team could take a step forward this year after last year’s first-round exit to the Blues and ….Jake Allen, is its promising prospects. Forward Luke Kunin, their 2016 first round selection, signed a three-year entry-level contract in March, and he showed promise in limited time with the Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild, scoring five goals in 12 games. There’s also Jordan Greenway, a 2015 second-round selection currently playing for the University of Boston, who excelled on Team USA in the 2017 World Junior Championships, tallying eight points in seven games as part of the first place national squad. However, there was an even bigger star Wild prospect in the tournament: Kirill Kaprizov of Team Russia, who scored 12 points in seven games. Kaprizov was selected three rounds after Greenway. With these three particular prospects in line for potentially donning a Wild uniform, it’s hard not to get excited about this team.
Just as importantly, the team was able to retain the core pieces that allowed them to finish with a franchise-record 106 points a season ago. They resigned their leading-point scorer Mikael Granlund(26 G, 42 A, 69 P) to a three-year deal, and Nino Niederreiter, who has scored at least 20 goals in three straight seasons, to a five-year deal. Another important thing to note is that the Wild once again can go into the regular season not worrying about goal-tending issues, as Devan Dubnyk is coming off of an All-Star season.
While the Wild may not have made any splashy moves in free agency, they have made sure they’re set up for at least a few years in playoff contention. I currently project around 95 points for them this season, slightly lower than last season, but still competing for that third Central Division playoff spot.