Wednesday, September 11, 2013

And so it begins

I want to begin by saying that following Nick's blog post is a bit like trying to go on stage after Celine Dion.

Wait. That doesn't make sense. Either way, I'll do my best to honor Nick by trying to write about Wild hockey and not make a total fool of myself.

Hold up. Too late for that too.

Oh well. Onward.

Today marks the beginning of training camp in the NHL and hopeful Wild fans across the State of Hockey welcome something to watch that isn't the trainwreck otherwise known as the Vikings.

Giving a prediction of the Wild is really hard this year. There are key losses on the team, but there are also signs of hope. The most glaring is the loss of Matt Cullen, leaving big skates to fill at second line center. Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, and Kyle Brodziak, are vying for the job (and, if you're imaginative, so are Erik Haula and David Steckel).

Here's the thing that's getting to me the most:  Given the acquisition of Nino Niederreiter, the Wild arguably have 8 top-six forwards: Parise, Koivu, Pominville, Heatley, Granlund, Coyle, Zucker, and Niederreiter. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as competition helps push players. With a number of youngsters vying for spots and knowing that they can spend time in Houston, I think that provides an additional level of motivation. Given that four of those guys can go to Houston Iowa, there's a lot of flexibility and depth of the team up front.

Heatley and Brodziak had good chemistry last year with Clutterbuck, so I can definitely see those two with one of the kids, be it Niederreiter, Zucker, or a center moved to wing (Granlund or Coyle). Then again, Mike Russo reported that Heatley has been working out this summer, so would he still fit with Brodziak or would he need a talented center to be effective?

Other questions at forward: Does Niederreiter need to play a top-six role to be effective? What of Konopka? Mitchell? Rupp? I think one or more of those guys gets traded or goes through waivers.

What I would like to see is Brodziak step up and play a top-six role as the third line center.

What I think will happen is that Coyle or Granlund grabs the job of #2 center and doesn't give it up. The other guy plays wing:

Parise - Koivu - Pominville
Zucker - Coyle - Niederreiter
Granlund - Brodziak - Heatley
Cooke - Konopka - Mitchell

or maybe:

Parise - Koivu - Pominville
Zucker - Granlund - Coyle
Heatley - Brodziak - Niederreiter
Cooke - Konopka - Mitchell

or perhaps:

Parise - Koivu - Pominville
Parise - Koivu - Heatley
Heatley - Parise - Pominville
Heatley - Koivu - Pominville

But all that conjecture is straight out of my ass. Take it in, folks.

On defense, I keep hearing that Dumba will get a long look. Personally, I hope that it's not too much of a look. I'm a huge fan that kids should remain in Juniors or the NCAA unless they're far too talented for that level. Considering that the Wild replaced Tom "JarJar" Gilbert with Keith Ballard and added Jonathan Blum, the number of players that Dumba has to jump has grown.

I think we're set with Suter and Brodin, Scandella/Stoner and Spurgeon, and Ballard and Blum.

Clearly, there's no room for a D-man whose last name doesn't begin with S or B. Corollary: Sorry, Mrs. Prosser. Clayton Stoner or Marco Scandella will probably be on the popcorn machine. You might want to go house shopping in Des Moines.

There are so many questions about this team this year. Who plays #2 Center? Who plays on Defense? How much do we rely on Darcy Kuemper?

The biggest of these is the number 2 center. If a young player steps up or if Brodziak takes the next step and solidifies the position, then the Wild will be looking good.

If Coyle, Granlund, Haula and Brodziak prove unable to infuse the necessary talent up the middle, this team will be in trouble. With the cap where it is, there's not much room (any?) to acquire a centerman, so an internal solution will be sought. Who steps in if the already identified players can't? Zack Phillips? Jason Pominville? Zach Parise? Good solutions, they are not, and I fear the Wild will take a step backwards.

If someone steps into the gap, then I predict the Wild to be second or third in the new division.

My expectation is that Wild finishes the regular season second in the division. Would I give the Wild a pass if they take a step back? I'd be hard pressed to do that. Would I call for anyone's head? Tough to say, but a lot depends on how they go out. If they go out like a punk, heads must roll.

No comments: