The Minnesota Wild's Youth Will Be Key to Taking the Next Step in Playoffs

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The Minnesota Wild's Youth Will Be Key to Taking the Next Step in Playoffs
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
The Wild's future hinges on a group of youngsters like Jason Zucker.

As seen by the recent success of teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins, the key to winning in the NHL is depth.

The Blackhawks were able to win the Stanley Cup in 2013 because they had a lineup that included great players on every line.

Whether it was a player like Dave Bolland scoring the game-winning goal to clinch the championship or a player like Michael Frolik anchoring the penalty-killing unit all season, the Blackhawks had many solid players to complement superstars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith.

Another team that has used its depth to succeed over the last few seasons is the Boston Bruins. As well as having stars like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton, the Bruins also had a fourth line that was able to frustrate opponents and play a regular shift.

Their usual fourth line of Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille was a key to their playoff success and often changed the momentum of games.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota Wild, this depth has been lacking during the previous few seasons. Instead of having a team that is strong top to bottom, the Wild have been relying far too much on players who would be suited best for smaller roles.

Players like Kyle Brodziak, Justin Falk and Clayton Stoner have been pushed into roles that do not suit them, and the results have been as expected.

However, there is hope for Wild fans this upcoming year.

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have proven to be very solid additions to the team, and they should be able to pair up with the promising youth infusion of the Wild to improve upon last season's eighth-place finish in the Western Conference.

In order for the Wild to take the next step, head coach Mike Yeo must be willing to put the youngsters in key positions. The Wild, 22nd in scoring last year, especially need an influx of scoring ability and speed, which the youngsters have in abundance.

Here are proposed lines for the Wild in the 2013-14 season. Be aware, they do differ quite a bit from other projections:

 

Forwards

First line: Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville

This line sounds like a lock for the upcoming season. All three are great two-way players that will be able to score and shut down other top lines.

 

Second Line: Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Dany Heatley

This is where the youth infusion begins. In order to take the next step, the Wild need Granlund to live up to his potential. He is a great passer with excellent hockey sense and fits nicely between two big snipers in Heatley and Niederreiter.

This line will likely focus on the offensive side of the ice.

 

Third Line: Jason Zucker-Charlie Coyle-Torrey Mitchell

This proposed line looks a lot like many of the proposed second lines for the Wild. Unlike the second line above, these players are more well-rounded, two-way players that would thrive in a shutdown role for the Wild.

Zucker and Mitchell's great speed would frustrate opponents, and Coyle's toughness and excellent work along the boards would make this line very hard to play against.

Coyle and Zucker also have scoring potential, which could help the Wild with secondary scoring (a major need).

 

Fourth Line: Mike Rupp-Kyle Brodziak-Matt Cooke

This last line would model the Boston Bruins' fourth line that has been so successful. Rupp would take the role of enforcer for the Wild, while Brodziak and Cooke would bring veteran leadership.

Both Brodziak and Cooke have played larger roles in the past, but putting them on the fourth line would give the Wild four strong lines that allow the talented youngsters to grow and develop.

 

Defense

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Keith Ballard

Jonathon Blum-Jared Spurgeon

Clayton Stoner

On defense, veterans Suter and Ballard will lead a group of young defensemen. Brodin, Scandella, Spurgeon and Blum are all 24 years old or younger, and they seem poised to improve the Wild's defensive corps this year.

Suter and Brodin excelled last year and will once again form a great first pair. Scandella played well in the playoffs and looks primed to break out playing with Ballard, who is motivated for a bounce-back year.

Blum, who hopefully will replace Clayton Stoner in the lineup, could provide offensive help from the blue line and would pair with Spurgeon, another solid defender.

 

Goalies

Niklas Backstrom

Josh Harding

Darcy Kuemper

The Wild will need someone to take some of the pressure off Backstrom this year. Look for both Harding and Kuemper to receive playing time this year.

 

Hopefully, Yeo implements a similar lineup this upcoming season. The Wild need to realize that the path to the Stanley Cup will require the right mix of youth and veteran leadership.

Letting the kids take control of the openings in the lineup will make the Wild a very deep and talented team that would seem ready to make a run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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