The Most Exciting Part of Each Top Minnesota Wild Prospect's Game
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When you really think about it, the Minnesota Wild are banking on the play of five prospects next season.
Forwards Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker and defenseman Jonas Brodin will have to play like, well, established players if Minnesota is going to be successful next season.
I know that people don’t really think of them as prospects because all five players had significant time in the NHL last season, but all of them are in their early 20s and all could easily see a stint in the minors next season (Yes, even Brodin. He’s not superhuman).
Think about it: Mikael Granlund was supposed to be a surefire No. 2 center last season. He was set up to succeed. Mikko Koivu was going to be on the top line, the acquisition of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter was going to take the pressure off of him, and he had two linemates who had scored 30 goals or more in at least one season during their career: Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley.
Granlund began the year with a bang but ended up in the minors due to a lack of production and suspect defense.
He eventually came back, but by all means, he is still a prospect.
I realize that guys like Coyle and Brodin looked like seasoned veterans last year, but if the sophomore slump gets them, they will be sent to Des Moines to round out their games.
There are veterans on this team like Parise, Suter, Koivu, Jason Pominville and Dany Heatley who will be expected to carry their weight, but the Wild are really banking on the production of five prospects this season.
This shouldn’t get you down: Each prospect offers something exciting to look for next season.
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Let’s start with Brodin since everybody seems to see him as a “non-prospect” because of what he did last season.
What did he do, though, really? He seemed invisible on the ice.
Well, like the subject of a Ralph Ellison novel or Reptile from Mortal Kombat, Brodin’s most distinguishable characteristic is that you don’t really notice him on the ice.
He doesn’t have a big slapper from the blue line, he isn’t going to send opponents through the Plexiglas and he probably won’t drop the gloves all to often, but he is going to be on the ice for long periods of time—you just won’t notice it.
He does the little things—gets in passing lanes, blocks shots, clears the front of the net—that everybody except opponents notice, and it’s that invisibility that, ironically, makes him stand out as a defenseman.
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Okay, next is Granlund.
I didn’t mean to pick on Granny, but his most exciting trait is, well, not all that exciting.
He likes to pass. He shares more than a good kindergartener.
Granlund has a scoring touch, don’t get me wrong, but he is going to be placed on a line with players who can score.
Best-case scenario: He and Nino click and the two become one of the highest-scoring young duos in the NHL. He may also get some time with Heatley, who really needs to get his production up, or Zucker and Coyle—two younger players who can find the back of the net.
Regardless of who he is with, he will be expected to set them up to score if he wants to get significant minutes next season.
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Like the storm he is named after, Nino should be electric and destructive on the ice next season.
He will be expected to whirl around defenders and pelt goaltenders with a fusillade of pucks. Like Fat Joe and Little Wayne, he’s going to make it rain. Pucks, that is.
Drafted No. 5 overall back in 2010 out of Land of Milk and Honey, Niederreiter is going to make Swiss cheese out of goaltenders, carving through defenses like a Victorinox and then depositing checks at UBS.
What I’m trying to say is that this guy should be scoring a lot of goals this season which, last I checked, is pretty exciting.
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The clandestine love child of Jason Statham and Mark Zuckerberg (not true), Jason Zuckerberg—Zucker for short—is equal parts badass and brilliant.
He trains with UFC fighters in the offseason but skates like Johnny Weir. He hounds the puck like a grinder but has the scoring touch of a sniper. He disrupts defensemen on the forecheck and creates turnovers on the backcheck.
Like Harvey Dent, he has two faces and decides whether or not he is going to lay out an opposing player based on the flip of a coin (okay, I made that up, too).
But, really, the most exciting thing about Zucker is that he checks like he is a fourth-liner looking to secure minutes but snipes goaltenders like he’s got an unlimited plan.
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I don’t have jokes about Coyle because what he did last season is not a laughing matter.
This guy stepped up and played with Parise and Koivu on the top line. I can only imagine the conversation that initiated this roster move…
Coach Mike Yeo: “Hey Charlie, I know you’re just a rookie, but we need you to play with Parise and Koivu. No pressure, though.”
Coyle: [Soils pants] “Yeah, no, I’m cool with it.”
Yeo: “What’s that smell?”
Coyle: “Don’t worry about that. I’m going to need new breezers, though.”
The crazy thing about Coyle is that he stepped in and played like a veteran. He can play both wing and center. He can be a passer or a scorer. He’s a big body, but he’s mobile.
In short, he’s so exciting because he does everything so well.
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Let yourself get riled up about the new guys on the Wild this season, but keep in mind that they are young and still are prospects.
General manager Chuck Fletcher took a big risk in moving Devin Setoguchi and not re-signing established veterans like Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard in order to let the young guys get ice time.
They are going to have to take advantage of it, or Minnesota will take a step back next season.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.