With the NHL season a week away, it’s time to look at the newly realigned Central division. Each day, we will be looking at some of the teams that the Blackhawks will be facing in the Central. And hey at least, we are not in the Metropolitan division. Today, we look at the Minnesota Wild.
Last year: 26-19-3, 55 points, second in Northwest Division.
Key Additions: Nino Niederreiter (RW), Matt Cooke (LW), Keith Ballard (D)
Key Departures: Devin Setoguchi (RW), Matt Cullen (C), Tom Gilbert (D)
The Skinny: Minnesota surprised some people last year as they led the Northwest Division for a majority of the season before spiraling downward in the last quarter of the season. Nonetheless, the first season of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in Minnesota was a great success as Minnesota made the playoffs. With Parise leading the way for Minnesota, they should have another strong season especially with less travel now that they are playing teams in the Central time zone. Expect Parise to put up 80-90 points and again lead Minnesota in goals and points. If Minnesota can get healthy seasons out of Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville, they will have a very strong top offensive line. It should be interesting to see if Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin can continue their improvement in their sophomore seasons and their trajectory will determine if Minnesota has the depth to compete with the Blackhawks and Blues in the division. Depth is a question mark for Minnesota all over the ice as there is not much behind Brodin and Suter on defense. Suter logged a career high 27:17 of ice time per game in the regular season that was upped to 31:37 in the postseason. It’s a luxury for Minnesota to have Suter in the back end eating up half of the game but they must find him some more help.
Player to watch: Charlie Coyle- Depth is the big question for Minnesota as mentioned above. A glaring hole for them is the number two center position. They are going to be looking for someone to fill that hole and Coyle will get the first shot. In 37 games last season, Coyle recorded 8 goals and 6 assists. If he can hold his own in the faceoff circle and produce in the number two spot then he can go a long way in helping fix a big problem for the Wild.
History: Minnesota and the Blackhawks have gone back a number of years to the old Norris Division days when brawls were common between the two teams. This rivalry got off to an early start last year when the Blackhawks defeated the Wild easily in the first round 4-1. In the last three regular seasons, the Blackhawks have gone 7-3-1 against the Wild. In their last ten games total against Minnesota including the playoffs, the Blackhawks have gone 8-0-2. If there is one team eager to prove that they belong with the Blackhawks, it’s the Wild which should bring some fire to this rivalry early and often.