The Minnesota Wild slugged through the 2010-11 regular season by way of a 39-35-8 record, and missed the playoffs for the third year in a row. A lack of resolve on the offensive end was especially problematic, as the team averaged just 2.48 goals per game which was better than just four teams in the entire NHL.
Fortunately, change is on the way in the Twin Cities. General Manger Chuck Fletcher extended a pink slip to coach Todd Richards this past June, replacing him with 38-year-old Mike Yeo whose resume includes experience as an assistant coach to the Penguins and most recently, the head coach of the Houston Aeros, the Wild's AHL affiliate. But getting a new boss behind the bench was only the start of an offseason shakeup for Minnesota, as Fletcher executed a series of trades with San Jose in order to improve the team offense. In addition to high-profile prospect Charlie Coyle, the Wild successfully reeled in a pair of talented snipers from San Jose - Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi - though star defenseman Brent Burns and forward Martin Havlat have moved on and will play for the Sharks this season. Also gone is ironman Andrew Brunette, who will be moving the puck in Chicago with the Blackhawks.
Defensively, with Burns no longer in the picture, it will be extremely important for Marek Zidlicky to stay healthy following his battle with lower body and shoulders injuries the past season. Given a full season, he's a safe bet to land in the 40-point range. Alternatively, second-year man Jared Spurgeon should add an offensive spark to a blue line that will predominately consist of stay-at-home defenders. Niklas Backstrom is set to reprise his role as the No. 1 goalie in Minnesota, while Josh Harding is reportedly ready to roll as the backup after spending a year recovering from damaged knee ligaments originally sustained in the last preseason.
The bottom line is that expectations will be higher than usual in St. Paul thanks to a retooled offense, and captain Mikko Koivu will be counted on to help an average club reach new heights in 2011-12.
THE BIG GUNS
Mikko Koivu (C): The 28-year-old Koivu has been an integral member of the Wild ever since the team used a sixth overall draft pick to nab him in 2001. Fantasy owners hungry for steady centers should know that Koivu has accumulated 200 points (59 G, 141 A) in 230 games over the past three seasons. But there is some degree of risk investing in the Finn, as he underwent surgical procedures on his right knee and shoulder after the 2009-10 season, and missed a handful of games last year due to a finger injury. Fortunately, he was able to finish out the regular season on a high note with five assists in the last two games. If he can coexist with newcomers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi like we think he will then there is no reason why a healthy Koivu can't crack the 70-point barrier for the second time in his career.
Dany Heatley (RW): The Wild traded for Heatley, a veteran sniper, this past offseason in a straight exchange for speedy forward Martin Havlat, who departs for San Jose. Heatley is coming off a 64-point (26 G, 38 A) season with the Sharks, his lowest output in six years. And what was the reason for the drop? One could attribute his "down year" in 2010-11 to his declining shot totals. In fact, Heatley took 63 fewer shots than the previous year, when he scored 39 goals in his debut season with the Sharks. The obvious culprit behind Heatley's drop was the emergence of Calder Trophy finalist Logan Couture, who cut into his scoring chances. Still, in Minnesota, The Wild gets back a top scoring threat they lost when Marian Gaborik became a free agent in July of 2009. It's expected that Heatley will share the limelight with Mikko Koivu and the Minnesota offense this season, so one should anticipate another season of 30-plus goals and assists from the 30-year-old German.
Marek Zidlicky (D): The Wild had to make do without Zidlicky for 32 games last year, as the play-making defenseman had sustained various injuries to his lower body and also dealt with an ailing shoulder. Assuming he can shake off the injury bug this year, Zidlicky is not someone you want to overlook in fantasy hockey. He's collected 93 points (23 G, 70 A) on the power play over the past five seasons, and is a good bet to land in the range of 40 total points in his next full season.
Honorable mention: Devin Setoguchi (RW)
ON THE RISE
Jared Spurgeon (D): Last season Minnesota gave the feisty Spurgeon a chance to play in the NHL, where he tallied 12 points (4 G, 8 A) in 53 games as a rookie. The team also tested him out on the man advantage, with the 21-year-old averaging 1:28 of power-play ice time that same year. One would think that Spurgeon is at a disadvantage because of his diminutive frame - he's only 5-foot-9, 185 pounds - but he compensates with good vision and a lot of energy. It will be fun to see how Spurgeon progresses in the NHL, though chances are he'll be available on the waiver wire in most fantasy leagues in 2011-12.
Cal Clutterbuck (RW): Thinking quickly, what comes to mind when you hear the name Clutterbuck? If you thought hits, we'd understand. After all, the 23-year-old winger led the league with 318 hits last season. But the aggressor has also shown some offensive prowess, having notched 19 goals and 15 assists in 2010-11. Actually, Clutterbuck has seen his point totals rise in each successive year that he's been in the NHL. He's certainly not the most exciting fantasy pick, and his feisty playing style occasionally invites injuries, but it's hard to ignore the vast improvement Clutterbuck has shown offensively since the Wild made him its third-round draft pick in 2006.
Kyle Brodziak (C): Brodziak is a solid two-way center for the Green and Red. In 2010-11, he finished second on the Wild with 48 takeaways and established new career highs in goals (16), points (37) and penalty minutes (56). The one knock on him is that he does not receive much time on the man advantage, though he did average a full minute longer on the power play in 2010-11 (1:16) than the year before - 0:16. As long as you don't expect Brodziak to be a fantasy hero on a nightly basis, there should be little risk using him as a sleeper pick in the late rounds of most fantasy drafts.
TWO TO AVOID
Pierre-Marc Bouchard (C): Bouchard played well last season, as he accumulated 38 points (12 G, 26 A) after his 2009-10 campaign was derailed by concussions and limited him to just one game. The trouble with PM aside from his recent injury history is that he is not an impact player on the man advantage, nor has he been on the right side of the plus/minus since his career year in 2007-08, when he went plus-11 and notched 50 assists. Bouchard has surprised us before, but there will be safer options at the forward position in fantasy land.
Niklas Backstrom (G): A drawback to owning Backstrom in fantasy leagues is that he usually has to be at his very best to show up in the win column. Case in point, the Wild have been among the 10 worst in team goals allowed per game in each of the past three seasons. Also, the Finnish netminder wrapped up the 2010-11 season with a losing record (22-23-5) for the first time in his career, but his peripheral stats (916 save percentage; 2.66 goals-against average) were decent considering he endured a pitiful 4.30 GAA in his last 12 games. The acquisitions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi from the Sharks should lend Backstrom more offensive support, but one can only hope a shoulder injury that he played through for most of last year is a non-issue for 2011-12.
Mikael Granlund (C): The Wild made Granlund a first-round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, snagging him with the ninth overall pick. Speed, play-making ability and hockey smarts have all contributed to Granlund's billing as a top prospect, though naysayers are quick to point out his small size of 5-foot-8, 169 pounds. The Finn also dealt with a concussion, which wiped out roughly half of his 2010-11 campaign with HIFK Helsinki of the SM-liiga league. However, Granlund has managed 76 points (21 G, 55 A) in 82 games over the past two seasons overseas, and while it's not clear when he will make his NHL debut, opportunists should consider stashing him on keeper rosters in 2011-12.
Chay Genoway (D): Genoway is a powerful, blue-collar type of defenseman who comes from the University of North Dakota, where he stood out as a first team All-WCHA and All-America selection in 2010-11. Since the start of his collegiate career in 2006, the 5-foot-9, 177-pounder has accumulated 26 goals and 101 assists in 168 games, albeit away from the professional ranks. He's likely to take the next leap forward in his development after signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Wild last April.
Charlie Coyle (RW): Coyle, originally drafted by the Sharks in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry draft, was traded to the Wild this past offseason as part of the Devin Setoguchi/Brent Burns swap. Last season, the power forward brought his offensive touch to Boston College, where he posted 26 points (7 G, 19 A) as a freshman. Coyle is a relatively unfamiliar name in fantasy circles, but that figures to change as the mega prospect should have little trouble working his way up the ranks.