After last season Minnesota Wild fans were depressed. They were distraught, and they were heartbroken. All the expectations of finally be rid of Doug Risebrough were too much for them to handle. Changing coaches from the defense-first style of play of Jacques Lemaire to the up-tempo, hit them in the mouth while you skate circles around them style of Todd Richards didn't take as quickly as they had hoped.
But this year is different.
The roster is reworked. There is more depth everywhere. There is more talent everywhere. This might actually be the best roster the Wild have rolled onto the ice since their inception.
A top line of Mikko Koivu, surrounded by wingers Andrew Brunette, and Anti Miettinen has proven to be a very formidable scoring line, which is exactly why Koivu got his big contract. But they are not what is scary about this team, as you know what you will get from them.
The second line is boasting Martin Havlat and new fan favorite Guillaume Latendresse, with recently acquired Minnesota native Matt Cullen. Cullen had a respectable 48 points in 81 games last season. Latendresse came over from the Montreal Canadiens with three points in 23 games and promptly developed some chemistry with Havlat and went on to score 37 points in his 55 games in Minnesota. And Havlat adding 54 points in 73 games last year makes this the line to watch coming into the season. There is true potential for the Wild's second line to have three 25-goal scorers and that will be tough on any team.
The third line however, is where things could get real intimidating for other teams to see. Chuck Kobasew and Kyle Brodziak are two top tier third liners, bordering on being capable second liners. And here is the big if; if Pierre-Marc Bouchard can return from a concussion that had him sidelined for all but one game last season.
Bouchard has proven to be a very talented playmaker that can get true shooters good, open looks at the net. Kobasew is that true shooter that Wild fans are hoping Bouchard gels with. Brodziak is a good two-way center, better known for his defense than his offense, but he did put up 32 points last year while bouncing around lines. This third line combination could also have two 25-goal scorers with Bouchard and Kobasew, and it is hard to believe there is another team in the NHL besides the Penguins who will have that much production that low on the depth chart.
Add in the shut-down line, the Wild has in Eric Nystrom, John Madden and Cal Clutterbuck who are all also capable of adding a little offense when it's needed, and this Wild team is boasting some real talent, speed, and grit up and down.
Shifting gears to the blue line, and you find some very interesting pairings back there.
Right now it looks like the slap shot firing Marek Zidlicky will be paired with shut down defensemen Greg Zanon as the top pair, which adds another element of fear to teams. Zidlicky has scored over 40 points all but one season in the NHL. And any defensemen who can add 260 points in 461 games in the NHL will be a great help to a team. Zanon is a very efficient defensemen, who while he does not skate silky smooth or very fast, has great instincts when it comes to breaking the puck out of the defensive zone.
The second pairing is one that Wild fans have become very accustomed to over the years, Nick Schultz and Brent Burns. Schultz is an ideal defensemen for any team. You never even really know he is there because when he is on the ice, the man he is charged with taking care of almost never makes something happen. Pairing him with Burns makes perfect sense, because Burns is a fast skating, hard nosed defensemen who can contribute on offense (137 points in 373 NHL games) and is also a big physical presence. Don't believe me? Just go to YouTube and search for him, plenty of videos of him fighting and laying people out with big, open ice checks.
The final defensive pairing for the Wild is, well a wild card. Cam Barker, who was acquired last season via a trade with Chicago for Kim Johhnson and first round draft pick Nick Leddy, and Clayton Stoner. Barker has a very respectable 87 points in 219 NHL games all while being known as a defensive defensemen. Stoner will be a rookie this season, with a total of 8 NHL games all coming last season. He has 70 points in 257 AHL games with the Houston Aeros, the Wilds minor league affiliate. He is a strong skater with a knack for making the right read, whether it be on defense or offense.
To see the Wild get away from players like Derek Boogaard (Signed this offseason by the New York Rangers) and John Scott (Signed this offseason by the Chicago Blackhawks) is a breath of fresh air. It signifies that GM Chuck Fletcher is doing everything he can to provide his coach and the fans in Minnesota a much better product on the ice and the hopes that he can right the ship that was so wrongly set off course by Risebrough.
It is long overdue that in the heart of hockey country in the United States the fans have the great pleasure of watching one of the games top young GMs in the league build a franchise that should very soon become a perennial Stanley Cup contender.