Minnesota Wild fans had reason to be excited when the puck finally dropped for the 2012-13 season. Their team made several key roster changes, transforming them from a playoff outsider to a team that, on paper, could qualify for a solid playoff position.
The addition of Ryan Suter brought a blue-line stud to solidify the defensive lineup. Convincing Zach Parise to come to his home town added a multi-faceted offensive threat who is a true leader on the ice. Adding these two proven talents to a solid core that included Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley and Niklas Backstrom gave Minnesota the horses it needed to erase its second-half collapse that cost the team a playoff spot last season.
With the lockout-shortened season robbing teams from having appropriate time to gel during a condensed preseason, it was no surprise to see the Wild struggle through an up-and-down start. A run of two or three wins would be followed by two or three losses.
With their inconsistent play over the first month of the season, it was not long until the Wild were an afterthought in the Western Conference race. With all eyes seemingly on the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks as they continued to burn through the schedule at an impressive clip, the Wild have begun to put things together.
Winners of four straight and seven of their last nine, Mike Yeo’s troops have started to show what this team is capable of. With a good balance of talent and blue-collar-type players, the roles within Yeo’s system are finally fully understood, and the results are showing.
What the Wild are doing is positioning themselves for a potentially deep playoff run. If they can continue to perform, they can earn the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. Having home-ice advantage for the first round and avoiding Chicago or Anaheim will put them on solid ground concerning the playoffs.
Once in the playoffs, Minnesota will be a tough matchup for any team. The Wild are strong enough in each department to seriously contend for the cup.
Koivu, Parise and Heatley give the Wild a variety of go-to guys in their attack. Not having to rely on a single player to carry the offensive burden is paramount to success when the defense ratchets up a notch come playoff time. Parise’s experience of playing for the Stanley Cup last season will be a tremendous asset to the less experienced players on the roster, and his all-around ability will help create chances.
In the defensive zone, the Wild have been solid. They have done a very good job of limiting opponents’ number of shots on goal throughout most of this season. Ryan Suter’s presence has also extended to the offensive end, with his 22 assists through 29 games bolstering the attack.
Between the pipes is always critical, and Wild fans have to feel very confident with Niklas Backstrom manning the position. There have been several netminder-inspired runs through the playoffs over the years, and Backstrom has the ability to capture that type of magic.
His skills will be especially needed if the Wild have to go through Chicago, Anaheim, or both. Having a goalie the caliber of Backstrom is a confidence boost to the rest of the team. Everyone know that if they do their job, the guy backing them up is not going to let their efforts go for nothing by allowing soft goals.
The playoffs are still a month away, and the trade deadline could potentially shake up the balance in the Western Conference, but Wild fans have plenty to look forward to. For the first time since the North Stars of the early '90s, Minnesota has a team that has the pieces to contend for the cup, and that is good news for the “State of Hockey.”