Sizing Up The Wild

You have to feel bad for the Wild, man.


They're the arguably the NHL's biggest paradox; they finished the 2018-2019 season at last place in the Central, but weren't bad enough league-wide to vie for a lottery pick in the draft. They made the playoffs six years in a row from 2013 to 2018, but never got past the second round.


Credit: Mike Strasinger/AP Photo

At present, the team's average age is about two years (29.5) over the league average of 27.9. They are painfully middling in almost every statistical category. The Wild finished 22nd in the league last year, had the fifth-worst goals for total (210), and ranked 14th in power play percentage.


Over the past couple seasons, a talent pipeline of sorts has been established between Minnesota and Nashville. In May of 2018, the Wild hired the Preds' former Assistant General Manager, Paul Fenton, to replace Chuck Fletcher as GM. Fenton was fired at the end of July, most likely for making a number of questionable roster moves that effectively left the team worse off than when he arrived. The most significant exchange last season is that of Mikael Granlund for Kevin Fiala on Feb. 25.


Credit: NHL.com

Granlund was the Wild's third highest scorer last year, even after the trade occurred. It was a baffling move on the Wild's part, but Fenton was a notorious Kevin Fiala fan and clearly thought of Fiala's ceiling as much higher than Granlund's. Granlund is just four years older than Fiala, but has a proven history of leading offenses since his breakout in the 2013-2014 season.


Granlund certainly didn't blow the roof off during his first few months with the Preds, but it is a good thing he's on our side. Excluding this past season, he was a real pestilence for us when he was on the ice. Over the 14 games the Wild played against the Preds from 2015-2016 to 2017-2018, Granlund racked up 15 points with seven goals and eight assists. By trading for him, David Poile managed to take away one of Minnesota's key offensive weapons who just so happened to terrorize his new team.


Taking a look at the Wild's key additions over the summer, we see a few more familiar faces. But we'll start with the big name.


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Mats Zuccarello was the Wild's biggest acquisition. Up until his trade to Dallas on Feb. 23, Zuccarello had spent his career largely either leading or co-leading the New York Rangers' offense. With the winger in the Eastern Conference, he recorded just eight points against the Preds. The bad news is, the 2019 playoff series against Dallas resulted in Zuccarello's three goals in six games. Zuccarello will probably land on the first or second line with either Jason Zucker or Zach Parise opposite him on the left wing.


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Zucker has a career 23 points, but only a -2 rating facing the Preds. Parise is 34 years old and was still the Wild's leading scorer last season. If the theory is that players drop off in production as they age, Zach Parise is the exception. He's dealt with some injuries the last couple seasons, but has clearly come back swinging from each. Parise has a career 37 points facing the Preds.



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Ryan Hartman signed a two-year deal with the Wild for $1.9 million per year. Hartman spent about a season and a half with the Preds before Poile traded him and a 2020 fourth round draft pick to Philadelphia for Wayne Simmonds in February (the Flyers then shipped him off to Dallas in June where he spent six days as a Star before signing his Wild deal).


Originally drafted by Chicago, Hartman had only played in four games against the Preds as a Blackhawk before being traded. But in those four games, Hartman recorded four points with a +4 rating- a four for four for four, if you will. Now with experience playing in the Preds' style, Hartman could easily become a threat on offense. Fortunately for Nashville, however, Hartman will likely be on the same line as Marcus Foligno and Joel Eriksson-Ek. Foligno and Eriksson-Ek have a combined 11 years experience in the NHL and have only recorded a collective five points facing the Preds.


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Depending on how attuned you've been to the Preds' minor league affiliates over the past few years, another familiar face in the pipeline is Brad Hunt. Hunt wasn't very impacting during his Preds tenure; he was acquired by the team on waivers in January of 2017 and was subsequently selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft. He played only three games with the Preds and notched just one assist. However, he grew into his defensive role while in Vegas with 18 points during the 2017-2018 season. He was traded to Minnesota in January of this year, but gathered a total 12 points in his 2018-2019 season.



Based on Corsica statistics, one of the NHL's best defensemen re-signed with Minnesota for seven more years.


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Jared Spurgeon has steadily increased his production in each of his nine seasons in the NHL. Spurgeon is the prototypical "offensive defenseman"- he is ranked tenth overall in the league in Corsi For, meaning his shot totals often result in all-around offensive productivity. Spurgeon has never been too much of a handful for the Preds, however. Over the course of his career, Spurgeon has recorded only 15 points with a -5 aggregate rating facing Nashville.



Credit: NHL.com

Ryan Suter, bless his heart, is still around. For some, he's just a distant memory now. For others more scorned by his $98 million departure for Minnesota back in 2012, he will continue getting booed whenever he possesses the puck in Bridgestone Arena. Suter has always played relatively decent against his former team; as a member of the Wild, he's put up 20 points against Nashville. He is third only to Brent Burns and Morgan Reilly in Corsi For rate. Suter and his defensive partner, Mathew Dumba, only combined for three points and a -1 rating in last season's games against the Preds.


The Wild acquired then-rookie centerman Ryan Donato in a trade from Boston in which they gave up another young, but more solidified center in Charlie Coyle. This was another move that added to the cascade of Fenton's firing. Donato is still ostensibly fresh out of college and while he's been able to rack up 25 points (BOS and MIN combined), he's suffered defensively and earned himself a -15 on-ice rating in the process. Donato is still young and has plenty of room to grow, but the Preds should look to take advantage of his weakness on the back-check when he's skating.


To summarize: the Wild aren't going to be a threat to much of anyone this year. In my opinion, the best they can hope for is to break even and go .500 for the year. The Preds could easily sweep the season series.

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