I got back from my honeymoon just in time for the Wild to get into their preseason schedule, so I thought I’d share some things I’ll be watching over the next couple of weeks.
- Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle – These two guys have been playing with the club for a while now. Both are 24, which means by many statistical models, their window for development might be starting to close. Zucker has shown flashes of speed and talent that would make him a game-breaker, and Coyle has been very good at drawing penalties, and finally cracked 20 goals last year. Whether they play together or separately, each could really push the team forward if they continue to improve. They are playing together on the top line in today’s first preseason game against the Sabres, though I don’t expect Coyle to stay at center once the regular season begins. We’ll have to see if Bruce Boudreau gets more out of these guys than Yeo could. Which brings me to…
- Bruce Boudreau’s deployment and line combos – I’ll be honest…I’m still not sure how the Wild got so lucky as to snag Boudreau. Coach Yeo had a lot of success but also a lot of roller-coaster stretches too. If BB can steady this team out, that could really go a long way toward having a strong regular season leading into a playoff run, rather than scrambling just to make the postseason as happened each of the last two years. The Central division is still awful, and got even tougher with the addition of PK Subban. But I do like the Wild’s overall roster construction this year, and I’m very excited to see what Eric Staal can do. If he and Pominville can both benefit from some positive regression to the mean, we could be looking at this team a lot differently than in years past. Back to Boudreau, I think Minnesotans liked Yeo well enough, but they’re going to LOOOOVVVEE BB.
Bruce Boudreau the only one on the ice as crews resurface. pic.twitter.com/jMqZTIorw8
— Dane Mizutani (@DaneMizutani) September 25, 2016
- The young guys, particularly Alex Tuch – The Wild have generally focused on developing a solid group of prospects over the last decade, but in recent years, vets were brought in and expected to contribute (Heatley, Vanek in particular). That trend continues this year with Eric Staal, though I’m not sure that wasn’t more of a savvy move by management to capitalize on a down year, rather than a campaign like #VanekWatch that we saw. I’m rooting for Staal to turn things around, and maybe he won’t face as much pressure to perform right away that both Heatley and Vanek had. But anyway, my point is that the club hasn’t had a young player turn in a really breakout performance in a long time. Zucker was starting to do that but had seasons derailed by injury. I am most excited to see Alex Tuch when he makes this team because I think he brings a size and skill combination that Minnesota hasn’t had in a long time, but perhaps Bertschy or Downing or even Lucia could turn in surprise performances. I liked Justin Fontaine well enough but he wasn’t really ever that dynamic of a presence. Chris Stewart should get lots of time in the bottom six, but with the depth at the top of the roster, a strong performance by one of the young guys could really change the makeup of the squad.
Thanks for reading!Let me know what you think by commenting on this post, on Twitter, or on r/wildhockey.