It's time for another Preseason Preview. This is where we check out the teams going into the season.
Now, the Minnesota Wild.
Team M.O.: Historically speaking, this is a team that's played a solid defensive game and showed a high-level of commitment to the players they've drafted since their inception. How committed? 8 out of 10 of their first round draft picks are still in the system; the exceptions being Marian Gaborik (who left because the N.Y. Rangers offered more money) and A.J. Thelen (who was last playing AA-level minor hockey in the ECHL.) However, that all might change soon...
Last Season: ... the team made ninth place in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs by 3 points. At the end of the season, Coach Jacques Lemaire resigned, GM Doug Risebrough was fired, and Marian Gaborik left the only team he's ever known. Owner Craig Leiopold tapped into Pittsburgh's talent bang, obtaining Chuck Fletcher as the G.M. and Todd Richards as the head coach. Martin Havlat, who was butt-hurt over Chicago re-signing Marian Hossa, moved to Minnesota to take over for Marian Gaborik.
Offense: Havlat, Mikko Koivu, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are each solid offensive contributors and are still tapping into their prime. Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan may night be tapping into their prime any longer, but they're still talented and provide good guidance for a team that's young overall. Antti Miettinen, Kyle Brodziak, and Eric Belanger provide a solid checking presence while Cal Clutterbuck has proven that he hits anything that moves (he lead the NHL in hits last season. Pretty impressive for a rookie.) Oh, and lest we forget, Derek Boogaard is the resident enforcer on the team. This team may want another top-six forward and another checking-line forward, but this team may also want to see James Sheppard and Benoit Pouliot grab those spots instead, so they may want to make some invites to camp. They can put a group of 12 NHL forwards together with what they have, but their forward depth is relatively average.
Defense: The defense is pretty balanced on this squad and IMO only needs a minor tweaking. Brent Burns battled injuries this season but is still a talented young player while a whole lotta upside. Kim Johnsson and Marek Zidlicky were very productive for the team on offense, but still ended up on the minus side of the plus/minus which kinda contracts what playing defense is about. Nick Schultz took a slight step back but still has potential to become a defensive minded top-4, if not top-pairing, defender. With Greg Zanon and Shane Hnidy rounding up the bottom pairing, the team may look to find a gritty defenseman who's not afraid to mix the mitts, bur I think they'll choose to get a puck-moving defender instead.
Goaltending: Their goaltending is excellent and will allow them to pull a trade later on in the season if they wished to do so. Niklas Backstrom was excellent for the team last season. Josh Harding was good too, but for whatever reason the team couldn't win in front of him. Wade Dubielewicz was brought in and while he will remain third on the depth chart and at worst will be a solid insurance policy should something else happen to the other two. At best, he'll be the backup if someone is moved.
Expectations: I like them. Tab me down as someone who thinks they have the chance to end up in one of the top spots in the division and make the playoffs this season.