If there was one word to describe the 2022-23 NHL Season, it would be : hectic. How else would explain it? The usual teams that make the playoffs every year have some of the roughest seasons they haven’t had in over a decade, a brand new franchise (Seattle) makes it into the playoffs in their second year after a terrible franchise beginning. Including Seattle there were 4 teams out of 16 on the hunt for their FIRST Stanley Cup win, Minnesota, Florida and Vegas. The President Trophy winning and record setting Boston Bruins get ELIMINATED when ahead 3-1 over the Florida Panthers, not to mention the Panthers also make it to the Stanley Cup Final, a feat nobody saw happening. Stanley Cup favorites like Colorado, New York Rangers, and Edmonton don’t even make it out of the Second Round? They say the Playoffs are an entirely different beast and a different beast they were. But that is all in the past, and a new season looms around the corner, this Thursday to be precise, as the Minnesota Wild host the Florida Panthers in a home opener to kick of the 2023-24 Season. The Missouri Mule is here to break down what to expect this season.
Let’s start simple and talk new additions. It’s Draft Day Part Deux.
For the Wild, where do you look to try and find a niche in a team that despite being in the hockey heartland you still have yet to win a Stanley Cup since the birth of the North Stars back in 1967? Well try as you might there are places you need to bolster and then just fill the basics, because there is always room for improvement.
Looking at the natives:
-Stramel (F)- 21st Overall – good size at 6 foot 3, 215 pounds. This forward also can perform on a huge national level earning silver with Team USA in the 2022 18U World Juniors.
-Pionk (D)- a scoring defenseman. I can’t begin to tell you how many times defensemen need to hammer more shots from the point. If you are going to wear down the goalie or try for a tip it, cycle the puck from the top and let the wingers get the rebounds. Recording 28 points in 51 Games last year in the NAHL is pretty good for a defenseman.
-Clark (F)- high energy with a heavy shot, recording 47 points in 62 games last season in the USHL. Offense is sometimes the best defense. This farm prospect is also going to spend some time at U of MN to play some Gopher Hockey which definitely means skill tweaking.
For the other draft picks:
-Kumpulainen (F)- Finnish forward recording the 5th most points (34) among team skaters in 41 games, 6 foot 2, 191 pound, this guy has the size and is a decent player to protect the puck. Perfect to deflect hits and keep the puck for breakaways.
-Heidt (F)- Recording 97 points in 68 games in the WHL, leading the Prince George Cougars with assists means you have a guy that knows how to feed the puck to your goalscorers. Not to mention also played for Team Canada in the U18 World Championship.
-Parker (D)- 6 foot, 192 pound defensemen. Size is always good. Not to mention someone who can also play when needed, i.e. Team Canada in the U18 World Championships.
Fresh faces are nice but what about the regular roster?
Goodness gracious. This was where things really went hectic last season. Remember all that stuff I talked about in the opening? Well that got PLENTY of teams trying to shuffle their rosters around trying to essentially keep up with the topsy-turvey event known as the 2022-23 Season. Several teams underwent rebuilds in the middle of the season, trades were happening left, right and center, and even then some players traded twice in one day! So what does the Wild Roster look like?
-Kaprisov is still with the Wild. In fact was even named at Alternate Captain. So the spearhead of the Wild offense still remains sharp.
-Gustavsson resigns with a 3-year contract. Considering this guy is the future of the Wild Franchise, this was a wise move. Despite Marc-Andre Fluery being in the number 1 starting position, Gustavsson was almost lost to waivers at the end of the season. In the 39 games he played with 37 starts, he went 22-9-7, 3 shutouts, 2.10 Goals Against and a .931 Save Percentage. And the guy is only 25. With so much potential and also so much to learn from legendary goaltender like Fluery it was a VERY wise move to keep him. He only has more room to get even better. Plus when it comes to goaltending, I predict that he may even get more starts for the Wild considering he brought a solid resume with him from last season as a backup.
-Fluery will return again. The future Hall of Famer is back for another season. Although I personally don’t believe he should be in the starting goalie role. At a point, Fluery should be made the backup at least for this season. He was a great addition in 2021, especially for bringing his playoff expertise (Three Stanley Cups) for a very interesting 7 game series with St. Louis in the playoffs. But a lackluster performance in last years playoffs against the Dallas Stars could prove that age may be taking a factor.
– The acquisition of Pat Maroon was a huge win for Minnesota. Every team needs enforcers, and with Ryan Reaves and Matt Dumba being let go, you lose the size and physicality the bottom 3 and 4 lines need to apply some forecheck. His pedigree of 3 Stanley Cups also helps. Kinda like a good luck charm since every team he has played for since 2019 as appeared in the playoffs.
-Sundqvist goes to St. Louis. In all fairness this isn’t a complete loss. A sub-par player the worst you lose is a 3rd or 4th line forward. Very easily replaceable.
-Reaves goes to Pittsburgh. Although here for a short time, Reaves is a heavy hitting, aggressive enforcer that knows how to play the body. In just my opinion you can’t help but like the guy if you perfer a little goon in your hockey. Very charismatic on and off the ice this will be a bit rough.
-Klingberg goes to Toronto. This is a VERY greedy pickup by Toronto, where everyone knows it is where players careers go to die. Considering Toronto hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since the 1966-67 Season, one of if not the longest playoff drought in the league. You also lost a franchise name. Bad for the Wild.
-Dumba goes to Arizona. For a number of years Matt Dumba has been a face long associated with the Wild. You lost a franchise name to a team without a locker room, without a stadium, and still struggling to find their footing out in the desert. The loss of a top defenseman as well. Bad for the Wild.
-Foligno gets a 4-year extension. He is a solid forward, especially putting up career high numbers last year. A good leader with a solid Franchise name. Pair him with Kaprisov and you may get some decent offense from him again this year, but I wouldn’t expect too much. It’s not very often that a player puts up career high numbers multiple years in a row.
-Zuccarello gets a 2-year extension. Same opinion as Foligno. A reliable guy with good offense, not afraid to apply pressure in the offensive zone and decent on the forecheck, plus another Franchise name returns.
-Hartman gets a 3-year extension. Although he can put some points on the board, he definitely needs to stay out of the box. 90 penalty minutes in 59 games but can find a way to tuck in a few game winning goals, this was a good pickup.
What does the rest of the roster look like?
Well that is an interesting question. Considering the Tom Kurver’s Prospect Showcase did not go very well for the Wild, going 1-1 including a 5-1 loss to St. Louis, there is always room for improvement. Here are a few faces to look out for in the Iowa Wild.
-Lettieri- A 4x Big Ten Gopher Hockey Champ seems to only excel in one thing and one thing only: the minor leagues. Playing with collegiate level players is where he excels, putting up solid numbers in the AHL and poor performances in the the NHL, makes him basically a professional minor leaguer.
-Lucchini- It’s always nice to have a left winger, considering it is pretty rare in the league as most are right handers, but still needs tweaking with his skills. Very good in the AHL, a reasonable call-up in terms of injuries.
-Wallstedt- What to say about Jesper Wallstedt. There are good moments. Like looking fairly decent during the preseason, but its where he resides is what matter most. Not looking good during the Showcase, and in his AHL season last year as a starting goaltender was a bit rough as well, 18-15, 2.68 Goals Against, .908 Save Percentage. Then when the Iowa Wild went into the playoffs he didn’t fair any better going 0-2, 3.35 Goals Against and .897 Save Percentage. But let the past be the past, and he certainly did by proving that he can at least play at a high caliber level in the preseason, yet he still has much to work on in the minors before he can even consider playing on the professional level. Or, he can prove me wrong entirely.
Lets talk preseason.
Everyone knows the preseason is like Who’s Line is it Anyway, “where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.” Although this was a fairly good preseason for the Wild, going 5-1 including a 4-0 shutout win against Dallas last Saturday. I’m not really sure what to say. You had the typical guys out there doing what they were supposed to do, Kaprizov scoring goals, Fluery and Gustavsson stopping pucks. The preseason sure looks like everything is a well oiled machine, but everything will change come Thursday once the home opener happens and everything matters.
Last minute thoughts for the season.
Inside the rumormill of the NHL, some believe that the Wild are playoff contenders again this season. I could believe that. They certainly have the roster depth to make it to the playoffs, and while their largest challenge this year will just be to keep an eye on Nashville, the sleeper team that almost took them out of a playoff spot last year. As far as the Central Division goes, I think it will be a repeat of last year, with Colorado (A cup favorite again), Minnesota and Dallas leading the way. Arizona, Chicago and St. Louis will continue to scrape the bottom, especially since Chicago is putting too much faith in Connor Bedard to replace Patrick Kane, Arizona is kind of a laughing stock in the NHL right now as they have been for the past couple of years, and St. Louis trying to rebuild their team for the first time in decades. Nashville will be a sleeper to watch out for, Winnipeg will be somebody that can throw a wrench in the plan but if anything, the Wild will make the playoffs this year.
Best case scenario: second round exit. Worst case scenario: wild card winner.