Minnesota Wild 2010 Season in Review, Part Two of Five: Grading the Forwards
Last time, we took a look at the team’s season as a whole.
Needless to say, I was much less than impressed with the outcome.
In part two, we’ll take a look at the forwards of the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild’s forward corps was a rag tag group of holdovers from the previous managerial regime and the beginning of the “new look” Wild and, like all teams, they had their ups and their downs.
As I mentioned last time, the Wild had 40 different players suit up for them this season, so I’m not going to go over each and every forward that suited up for the Wild. For example, I’ll take a look at Eric Belanger but not at Benoit Pouliot, because Belanger spent a larger period of time with the team.
In any event, there are quite a few to look at, so let’s get started.
The captain of the Wild, Koivu had a career season on the ice—22 goals, 49 assists, 71 points, 246 shots, and an 8.9 percent shooting percentage. All of this adds up to one great season for the captain of the State of Hockey.
But I guarantee that, if you asked him, he would have sacrificed all of that for a spot in the playoffs.
For all intents and purposes, Koivu was the Wild’s best player all season long. That’s not to say that he didn’t have his downfalls this season.
Koivu has the skills and the size to be a dominant player when he wants to be. What he exhibited this season, though, is that he often shies away from that role. He is a leader on and off the ice for the Wild, but if he wants to help take this team to the next level he is going to need to learn to be that dominant player.
I was critical of the Wild for giving Koivu the captaincy this season, and I stand by that decision (I think that the team would have been better served with Owen Nolan or Andrew Brunette grooming Koivu into the captaincy this season), but there is no doubt that Koivu performed admirably in the role, and though it took him time to get used to the role, he was and is the correct choice for the captaincy.
All-in-all, Koivu was the Wild’s best player this season. He had a career season and he showed that he is still getting better each year. He is the prototypical Wild player and he is now the leader on the team in every way.
Since he was traded to Atlanta in 1999-00, Brunette has been around a 50 point-per-season player.
He was brought back by the previous managerial regime, much to many Wild fans’ delight, and appeared to be slipping last season. He oftentimes looked slow and outmatched on the ice and had many people wondering if he would be able to recover from offseason knee surgery that could likely hamper his movement on the ice even more.
however, Bruno came out and answered those doubters in a resounding way this season as he put together his most successful season since his Joe Sakic-inflated 2006-07 season.
Brunette posted the second-highest goal total of his career and was a force on the ice each and every game for the Wild, most notably in his “office,” behind the net.
An integral part of the Wild’s “AMA Line,” Brunette proved that he not only still had it but that he could still do the dirty work around the net with the best of them.
Not only was he an important cog offensively, but he also was a veteran leader that Koivu, the team’s captain, could turn to for advice and for guidance.
Brunette took this leadership role very seriously and it shone through both on and off the ice. A true teammate, Bruno is part of why this young Wild squad will continue to grow and play the game the right way.
“Mittens,” as he is affectionately called, was the third of three 20-goal scorers on the Wild’s top line.
Though maddeningly inconsistent, Miettinen notched his first 20-goal season and was both a threat on the power play and a reliable penalty killer for this team. His speed was a tremendous asset and his shot was even more deadly than it had proved to be the season before.
The biggest downfall of Miettinen’s season was his consistency, or lack thereof. When Miettinen was hot, he scored with the confidence and swagger of a 50-goal scorer. When he was cold, however, he was very, very cold.
What was most impressive about Miettinen’s season, however, was his clutch goal scoring. His four game winners tied Guillaume Latendresse for the team lead and his 175 shots was good for second on the team behind Captain Koivu.
His inconsistencies aside, Miettinen had a solid season for the Wild and played a large part in their offense.
The one thing that Wild fans can hope from Miettinen is an even better season next year. He has improved each season he has been with Minnesota and another year on the wing of Mikko Koivu will likely only benefit him.
Havlat’s season would be easy to dismiss as a disappointment.
He came in as a high-priced free agent acquisition, with all of the heightened expectations that came along with that, but he didn’t come close to living up to them.
But Havlat is a playmaking winger with some shooting ability. He is at his best when he has players that he can create for and players who are physical enough to help create space for him. While he didn’t have that immediately in Minnesota, the addition of Latendresse was exactly what the doctor ordered and Havlat exploded after December.
When he exploded, he was exactly what Wild fans thought he would be. He was a big, skilled winger who had the ability to control the game with his stick handling and puck possession abilities.
The expectations were the biggest thing that Havlat had working against him. It was apparent early on that the pressure was weighing on him. Once he began getting more comfortable, the pressure began to lift and we began to see the Martin Havlat that everyone thought that they were getting.
One thing that struck me the most about Havlat was his vision on the ice. He has the ability to find the open area to skate or to pass or to shoot better than most players I have seen. He also has an effortless skating stride that puts him exactly in the right place at the right time.
While pressure built on Havlat early on, he brushed this off later in the season and gave fans a lot to look forward to for next season.
What can I say about the man known as G-Lat that I haven’t said already?
After coming to the Wild Latendresse was easily the team’s best player, and gave the Wild an aspect to their team that they’ve never had before—a true, bona fide power forward.
Latendresse came to the Wild with low expectations, in exchange for Benoit Pouliot. He was said to be a lazy, soft, cement-footed player who only played when it suited him. Instead, the Wild got a dynamic, quick, hard-hitting power forward that displayed all of the talent that Montreal had always hoped he would.
Truth be told, I have had a hard time finding flaws in the way that Latendresse played for the Wild this season. The one thing that I would have liked to see more from him is playmaking ability. He has the goal scoring skill—that’s for sure. But for him to display a more complete game he needs to begin to create for his line-mates as well.
But that’s not to say that Latendresse didn’t get people’s attention. He is in a system that suits his style of play, he’s the exact type of player that Chuck Fletcher wants this team to play like and he could a future cornerstone for this franchise.
Ebbett was one of the mid-season acquisitions for the Wild this season, as they picked him up off of waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks and he came in to center their second line.
Ebbett only briefly displayed flashes of what he was capable of and, unfortunately, might be no more than a stopgap as a second line center until Pierre-Marc Bouchard returns from the concussion that knocked him out of an entire season, but he was certainly a player that had his role and filled it well.
While never the largest player on the ice, Ebbett certainly didn’t play like he was undersized. He went into the corners hard and did the dirty work expected of him and he was a welcome addition to a line geared towards offense.
Despite all of the intangibles and the defensive abilities that he brought to the table, however, Ebbett was not the offensive player that they had hoped for. He was good enough for the moment, but the team needed something more than what Ebbett brought in order to be successful.
There are two reasons why Cal Clutterbuck is one of the most loved Wild players. He hits, and he’s pretty darn funny as well.
Clutterbuck led all players in hits again this season and did his job to perfection this season. Not only that, but he also began exhibiting the scoring touch that saw Jacques Lemaire comment that he had the best wrist shot on the team last season.
The good news for Wild fans is that Clutterbuck began to get to flex his offensive muscles, logging some limited time on the power play as well. His 13 goals was a career high and his 136 shots were seventh on the team.
But, let’s be honest. That’s not why the Wild have Clutterbuck around.
He’s around to hit and to agitate, and he did both to perfection. Not only that, but he was one of the more proficient penalty killers for the Wild, with two shorthanded goals.
With the Wild moving more towards a faster, harder hitting team, Clutterbuck is exactly the type of player that they need.
With some more offense, Clutterbuck could be a potent player but for right now, he is simply a role player.
With the retirement of Wes Walz two seasons ago, the Wild lost one of their heart and soul-type players—a checking forward with some offensive potential.
Brodziak was the type of gritty, hard-working player that the Wild haven’t had since Walz left the team and proved to be the type of player that led by example and that was versatile enough to play in any situation.
While Ebbett was on the shelf, Brodziak often drew duty between the duo of Havlat and Latendresse and his hard-working style of play complemented them quite well. He also had the ability to chip in offensively from time-to-time.
When acquired from the Edmonton Oilers at the 2009 draft, the Wild were expecting to get a solid checking forward and that is exactly what they got with Brodziak. Not only that, but they enjoyed Brodziak’s career high in both points and assists as the young forward flourished in a role that was much larger than he had in Edmonton.
At 25, Brodziak’s best years are still ahead of him and the Wild will benefit from that.
Kobasew was acquired early on in the season and never really had a chance to grab hold in Minnesota.
While he received ample playing time, he never quite met expectations and injuries nagged him throughout the season, preventing him from getting any sort of chemistry with his line-mates.
Flashes were seen of what he was capable of with two multi-goal games, but he was not nearly consistent enough to bring anywhere near the scoring punch that the Wild had hoped he would bring, nor was he dynamic enough to warrant what the Wild gave up for him.
He did turn out to be a solid checking line forward and meshed nicely in his limited time on the team’s checking line, but the team was expecting more than a checking line forward when they acquired him.
Time will tell whether or not the move was worth it in the end, but right now it certainly seems like it was not.
What can be said about Sheppard’s season that hasn’t already been said?
Plainly put, it sucked—in a large, large way.
Sheppard’s rookie season showed promise and his second season, though disappointing, showed signs of improvement.
But this past season, Sheppard regressed in a large, large way.
Sheppard didn’t even come close to scratching last season’s point total of 24, tallying just six points, and was often invisible on the ice. He was criticized frequently for not paying the price and going into the hard areas and, quite frankly, was unimpressive in just about every single way.
While I don’t think that it’s fair to call Sheppard a draft bust quite yet, he is getting dangerously close.
Yeah, he didn’t finish the season with the Wild, but he did play 60 games with the team and played a large role on the team.
A defensive specialist, Belanger was enjoying a terrific season offensively until he was traded at the trade deadline, and he provided the Wild with not only a terrific checking line player but also a faceoff specialist that could be counted for in all situations.
It was disappointing to see Belanger shipped off, but it was a necessary move for a team that was likely not going to make the playoffs. To say that his absence greatly hurt the Wild, however, would not be an understatement.
What there is to be said about Nolan could be summed up in all sorts of different adjectives and superlatives.
Plainly put, he’s the man.
Nolan held a much different role on this Wild team, oftentimes being paired with line-mates whose skill level was not conducive to gaudy offensive numbers, but he made the best of it and was another leader by example.
You know that a player has the respect of the room when the captain-to-be approaches him to ask if it’s okay that he becomes captain, or when a General Manager approaches him and asks if he wants to be traded when the man doesn’t have a no trade clause.
Nolan got both and, even with a sub-par season, brought intangibles to the team that made his season worthwhile.
Earl only played a handful of games for the Wild, but he was almost always their first call up and there was a reason why.
Six goals on 29 shots.
Which begs the question—why didn’t he shoot more?
Earl was a tremendous addition to the Wild’s squad and provided offensive pop when he was on the ice, which was no small accomplishment considering that he was often on the ice with the team’s fourth line.
While six goals may not seem like a lot, it was enough to possibly warrant Earl getting another opportunity with more responsibility next season.
Let’s be honest. Boogie is on the Wild for one reason and one reason only—to fight.
The only problem is that this season, he didn’t do a whole heck of a lot of that.
Yes, he had 105 PIM this season, but he only had a grand total of nine fights.
Past that, it’s a matter of stats. Four points, minus-12, 6:09 minutes per game.
Despite playing well at times and seeming like he might break the longest goal drought in the NHL, that’s really all you need to know on this one.
Sykora came to the Wild with the expectation that he would add some much needed offense to the squad.
Unfortunately, he never got the chance to do so.
Sykora found himself in the Todd Richards doghouse early and was never able to make his way out before being released from his contract after playing just 14 games for the Wild.
During those 14 games, Sykora rarely played with players that complemented his style and was oftentimes sequestered to the checking, or fourth line—not necessarily something that a player who scored 20-plus goals in ten seasons prior to this one was used to.
We’ll never know whether or not Sykora would have been able to break out of the slump that he was in, so we’ll give him an incomplete.
Wellman, one of the most highly coveted rookie free agents this season, signed with the Wild and made an immediate impact on the team.
His speed and his skill were quickly evident and, what’s more is that he generated a lot more offense than his stats indicate.
In 12 games, he had a goal and three assists and came in playing big minutes for an injured Wild team almost immediately.
His numbers might not show it, but he certainly gave the Wild a reason to be hopeful for next season with both his work ethic and his willingness to go to the hard areas, despite his size.
Almond was another of the Wild’s late season call ups as they struggled with injuries and he was a great fill in at forward, showing versatility in his abilities at forward playing in both checking and scoring roles.
He also exhibited the willingness to do the tough things that need to be done in order to get to the tight areas of the ice and to get the puck from them.
While seven games is hardly a quality sample size and he likely needs some more seasoning in the AHL, Almond is another youngster that has given Wild fans hope for the future.
Butch was expected to be centering the Wild’s second line.
Instead, he was a staple in the press box, sidelined with a concussion for the entire season.
Bouchard’s playmaking skills were greatly missed and, were he healthy, the Wild might have been expected to contend for a playoff spot.
Instead, Bouchard and the Wild will have to wait next year.