Minnesota Wild Ready to Be Competive This Season and Beyond

Robert O'KeefeContributor IOctober 15, 2011

Wild Captain Mikko Koivu Could be Due for a Career Year
Wild Captain Mikko Koivu Could be Due for a Career YearBruce Bennett/Getty Images

Mikko Koivu has to be happy right now.  Koivu, for the first time in his career, is being flanked by an elite pair of wings in former Sharks Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi.  Regardless of how good Koivu feels, the trio has certainly looked the part of a dominant scoring line capable of taking over games in the first week of the season.  

The lines' regular season debut was a smashing success as both Heatley and Setoguchi found twine in a Wild victory.  

Mikko Koivu has long been one of the NHL's most under appreciated and invisible stars.  He has a strong two-way game that can be matched by only a handful of the NHL's most complete forwards.  Koivu also possesses an uncanny feel for the game that makes him an ideal facilitator for high-scoring, often-shooting wingers like Setoguchi and Heatley.  

If Koivu wants to emerge as a internationally relevant star—as those who have watched him over the years know he can do—this is the year to do it.  

Behind the Koivu/Heatley/Setoguchi line the Wild have some solid secondary scoring and strong two-way players capable of shutting down opposing top-lines. Pierre Marc-Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse are both healthy for the first time in months and along with Matt Cullen have the capacity to be a middle of the road second line.  

After the second-unit there are solid, systemic players like Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Darroll Powe.  In previous years defensive specialists like Clutterbuck and Brodziak would have been forced to move into a top-six role where their defensive contributions get forgotten as they struggle to produce goals on a "scoring" line. 

The blue-line is where the Wild have their issues. This is well documented and rightfully so as the trade of Brent Burns left the Wild without the elite offensive defenseman that almost every great NHL team seems to possess.

The defensive crops will have to play sound defensively and produce some timely offense to do their part in getting the Wild back to the playoffs for the first time in four years.  

Similarly, goalies Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding are expected to be solid, consistent performers and thus far have not illustrated any reason for fans to question that the duo can indeed perform up to task with the Wild's suddenly explosive forwards.

While the Wild's first line is the best it's been in at least five years, it is the new found depth of the organization—that accumulated seemingly overnight—that has been most satisfying to loyal Wild fans.  

The Wild had arguably the NHL's most inept and depleted prospect pool from 2008 until 2010. There was not a legitimate top-six NHL forward to be found and even the goaltending and defenseman prospects were lacking in blue-chip players.

Fast-forward to today, and the Wild now possess a half-dozen excellent prospects to go along with a more exciting and talented NHL team.   GM Chuck Fletcher deserves credit for invigorating a very dry farm system while simultaneously maintaining a competitive and exciting NHL team. He inherited a team in poor condition from the top-down and has made the Wild infinitely more promising. 

However it is not the immediate future that has me the most excited, as I feel this Wild squad has enough to make a playoff run but still is at least a few players from a Cup run. What I am most excited for is to watch the development of the Wild's excellent brigade of prospects.  

The superstar of the group is Finnish sensation Mikael Granlund—whose game mirrors Bouchard's, though it is important to note that Granlund has considerably more upside than Bouchard ever had.  Simply put, Granlund will be an excellent NHL player and maybe even more.

After Granlund there is Charlie Coyle of Boston University, who looks every bit like a future top-six forward and Jonas Brodin, the Swedish defenseman the Wild picked up this year in the first round of the NHL draft.  

Granlund and Coyle are expected to be NHL ready whenever the Wild need them and Brodin, as well as other blue-chippers like Zach Phillips, Tyler Cuma and Jason Zucker.  Simply put, there is help on the way for the Wild.