Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Minnesota Wild.

Last Season

Minnesota put up a 49-25-8 record last season for 106 points, finishing a mere three points behind the Chicago Blackhawks for the division title. They boasted a jaw dropping +58 goal differential and had four players score 20+ goals.

Eric Staal had one of the most noteworthy bounce back seasons in recent years. After posting a dismal 39 points in the 2015-16 season between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, he signed with the Wild and put up 65 points with his highest goal total since 2010-11, a team leading 28.

Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter both continue to get better with each passing season and 2016-17 proved this trend continued. Granlund spiked 25 points from his 2015-16 total, going from 44 to 69, while Niederrieter now has three consecutive 20-goal seasons and went from 43 points in 2015-16 to 57 last season. Devan Dubnyk put forth another Vezina calibre season with a 40-19-5 record with a .923 save percentage and 2.25 goals-against-average. He is now only one win away from 100 in a Wild jersey and the former 14th overall pick is showcasing his worth every time he steps on the ice.

Off-season

A big trade between the Wild and Buffalo Sabres altered both teams depth. Minnesota shipped out Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella along with a 2018 fourth round pick, and in return received Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, and a 2018 third round pick.

Pominville had underwhelmed since joining the Wild and his lacklustre 47 point performance had the fans wanting him out. Scandella was an option many thought the Vegas Golden Knights would go for, but after they passed on him, a trade was the next option. The Wild’s top four defensman are set and he would’ve been fighting for ice time if not moved. Foligno adds depth to the forward core in Minneosta after posting 23 points with thirteen goals last season. Injuries have plagued Ennis recently, playing in a mere 74 games over the past two seasons. A fresh start with the Wild will help him get his career back on track, in 419 games he has tallied 97 goals with 236 points.

The draft has not been an area that the Wild have had a major presence in in recent years, and 2017 continued this trend. The Wild did not make a selection until the third round, taking winger Ivan Lodnia 85th overall. In total they made six selections, two more than the 2016 draft. In 2016 they did have a first round pick, Luke Kunin, taken 15th overall, and will look to crack the roster shortly, and with an aging Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu, that will likely happen in 2018-19.

Line Combinations

Forwards

Zach Parise-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle

Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Zucker

Marcus Foligno-Mikko Koivu-Tyler Ennis

Cam StewartJoel Eriksson EkLandon Ferraro

Other options: Matt Cullen, Luke Kunin, Daniel Winnik

Defense

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon

Jonas BrodinMatt Dumba

Kyle QuinceyRyan Murphy

Seventh defenseman: Gustav Olofsson

Goalies

Devan Dubnyk

Alex Stalock

Players to Watch

Eric Staal

The 32-year-old was drafted second overall by the Hurricanes back in 2003 and has put together a career worthy of future hall of fame consideration. He consistently put up 70 point seasons between 2005-06 and 2011-12 in Carolina and will look to do so this season with Minnesota after returning to form last season. In 1,011 games he has tallied 846 points and needs only seven assists to reach 500. That, along with the 900 point milestone are enough to keep an eye on Staal this year.

Nino Niederreiter

Drafted fifth overall by the New York Islanders in 2010, Nino is starting to turn potential into results and the Wild have a top six forward to build around and utilize for many years. He has played in only 389 games, and has only increased his point total with each passing season. 37 in 2014-15, 43 in 2015-16, and 57 in 2016-17. This campaign should see him reach the 30 goal mark for the first time in his career and crack the 60 point mark.

Players on the Rise

Jason Zucker

He is a product of the Wild system, drafted by them in 2010 in the second round 59th overall. He is now entering his third full season in the league and after putting the league on notice with 21 goals in 51 games back in 2014-15, he doubled his point total from 2015-16 last season, going from 23 to 47 points.

Mikael Granlund

Nino, Zucker, and Granlund make up one of the most impressive second line in the league. They were also all drafted in the same year, 2010. Granlund was taken ninth overall that year and has put forth the best career of the three so far. In 321 games he has 201 points and like Nino, will look to crack the 30 goal mark this season.

Players on the Decline

Ryan Suter

He is still a top line defensman, but no longer is he going to be included in the same breathe as the leagues top blue liners. His point total dropped by 11 this past season, and if not for playing on the top line, it would be a stretch to see him reach 40 points this season. Suter has played in over 900 games and is on the north side of thirty. His best seasons are behind him. He still has good ones left, but don’t expect a 51 point campaign like 2015-16 to happen again.

Zach Parise

Parise is a future hall of fame player, but even guys who fall into this category lose a step at the tail end of their careers. His point totals have been dropping over the past three seasons (62 in 2014-15, 53 in 2015-16, 42 in 2016-17) and he has also not played a full 82 games in that span either. In fact, he has never played a full 82 as a member of the Wild and his 45 goal, 94-point dominant campaign in 2008-09 with the New Jersey Devils has become a distant memory.

2017-18 Season Prediction

Five of their final seven games occur on the road, and the Wild will look to secure a playoff spot before this stretch. After missing out on the division title by three points, and a first round elimination last season, this franchise is fired up and hungry to prove any doubters they still have wrong. They possess the combination of veteran and young talent that success is built around. And if Dubnyk continues to play like he has recently a second round birth is on this teams horizon.

Main Photo:

Embed from Getty Images


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