Minnesota Wild Players Who Need to Develop On-Ice Chemistry

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Minnesota Wild Players Who Need to Develop On-Ice Chemistry
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Koivu (center) and Parise (right) need to be productive if the Wild are going to be successful next season.

Obviously it would be nice if everybody on the Minnesota Wild generated chemistry with one another. They could all skate to the center of the ice and sing Kumbaya after victories and then participate in Events and Adventures once they left the arena.

While it is assumed that everybody on the Wild gets along, at least to the extent that they can function as a team, it is especially important that certain players connect on the ice if Minnesota is going to capitalize on its success from last season.

The biggest question, of course, is how productive Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu can be on the top line. The two connected in the lockout-shortened regular season, but were shut out in last year’s playoffs.

When it comes to young players, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker look like they can play with just about anybody, but two underachievers, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, might be able to help each other get out of a rut early in their respective careers.

Finally, Marco Scandella, a player on the rise, would greatly benefit by learning how to play alongside veteran Keith Ballard. The two are likely to be the No. 2 defensive pairing next season, and Scandella, 23, could take his game to the next level by learning from a veteran player.

Team chemistry is vital to success in hockey, and if these three pairings can find a way to get things done this year, Minnesota will be able to compete with the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues in the new Central Division this season.

 

Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu

By virtue of having a training camp and preseason in what should be a normal 82-game schedule (I guess with the NHL, you never know), Parise and Koivu should have a better connection right away.

Last year, there was the big hoopla around Parise's signing, then the whole mess with the lockout, and a team full of new faces was forced to play with one another.

Parise and Koivu essentially participated in a speed-dating exercise, and if you’ve ever seen The 40-Year-Old Virgin, you know exactly how that goes (I’m pretty sure it’s the Minnesota girl who has the nip-slip).

No matter how talented both players are, and they certainly are among the best the league has to offer, it was unreasonable to think that they would jump right into it and develop instant chemistry during a crazy 48-game season.

Things should work out just fine now that they can take things nice and slow, but this has to work in order for Minnesota to be competitive, as Parise is paid to be a scorer and Koivu is going to be expected to put him in a position to do so.

 

Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter

Granlund was set up to come in and dominate in his first season.

The Wild held him back a year, letting him develop an extra season in Europe before bringing him to the Twin Cities. They also signed Parise and Ryan Suter, taking the spotlight off of him. Finally, because Koivu is the incumbent No. 2 center, Granlund could play on the second line.

Granny got off to a hot start, scoring a goal in his first game, but struggled after that and ended up serving a stint in the minors.

Similarly, Niederreiter was supposed to be the savior of the moribund New York Islanders franchise when he was drafted No. 5 overall. He was immediately brought up at age 18 and given plenty of ice time to get used to the NHL game.

Nino was supposed to develop with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo and help a young Islanders club recapture the glory it had in the early 1980s.

Instead, he floundered—and after a second go as a 19-year-old, New York gave up on him, jamming the Swiss forward in the minor leagues—a move that prompted him to ask for a trade in the offseason.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Unlike Granlund, who was drafted, the Wild had to give up Cal Clutterbuck, a fan favorite, to get Niederreiter, and as on Long Island, there are big expectations for him in St. Paul.

Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher felt that the acquisition of Niederreiter made Devin Setoguchi, a former 30-goal scorer entering his prime, expendable, and the 21-year-old will be expected to play second-line minutes as the season progresses.

These two young players enter the year with big expectations and could help each other out by connecting on the second line, taking the pressure off of the aforementioned Parise and Koivu while giving Wild fans reason to believe that the future is bright.

 

Marco Scandella and Keith Ballard

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After playing 63 games in 2011-12, Scandella spent the shortened season in the minors, only to resurface in the playoffs. He made a good enough impression between his time in Houston and in the playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks that the 23-year-old got a two-year contract and an opportunity to earn top-four minutes as a defenseman next season.

Ballard, 30, is a veteran defenseman who should be an upgrade from Tom Gilbert as a depth player behind Suter and Jonas Brodin. The Baudette, Minn. native has one of the nastiest hip checks in the game and the positioning acumen to set himself up to make opponents fly.

Scandella would be smart to shadow Ballard this season. The former Vancouver Canuck, Florida Panther and Phoenix Coyote entered the league in 2005 and has has carved a niche for himself.

If he wants to stick around, Scandella has to do the same thing. Minnesota will likely pair the two together to give him the opportunity to do so, and unless he wants to end up on the third pairing or as a member of the team’s newly relocated AHL affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, Scandella should try to develop a bond with his projected partner.

 

Conclusion

Although the Wild have to beat out two bona fide contenders—Chicago and St. Louis—for the division crown, Minnesota is talented enough to compete in the Central and go on a deep playoff run.

Whether the team succeeds or fails will be based heavily on how well these three pairings play with one another. For obvious reasons, the Wild need scoring from the first and second lines, and defensive depth behind Suter and Brodin will be vital.

 

Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.

 

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