The Minnesota Wild are 12-6-1 through the first 19 games, good for 25 points, and first place in a very competitive Central Division. With the Wild nearing the quarter mark, which players on the roster have seen their stock raised or fallen so far this season? For any player not listed, it means their stock is steady and didn’t warrant a spot for either.
Stock Up 📈
It can’t be overstated how vital Hartman’s inexpensive three-year deal — worth $1.7 million annually — is for the Wild. Not only was it a bargain from the beginning, but it appears that it could become a steal this season. Hartman, 27, has a team-leading ten goals and 14 points this season. He’s bound to crush his career-high 19-goal campaign with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016-17.
With depth players Nico Sturm, Brandon Duhaime, Rem Pitlick, and Jordan Greenway, if he is still on the team at the end of the year, all needing contracts next summer, one has to wonder if Bill Guerin will use Hartman’s deal as a bar for their next contracts. Consider that the Parise-Suter dead money will become significant next summer.
While Hartman continues to score at a significant rate, it’s worth noting that there will probably be some regression at some point. Not only is his 15.6 percent shooting clip is uncharacteristically high, Minnesota’s shooting 12.3% with him on the ice at 5-on-5. Those figures probably aren’t sustainable over a full season. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t hit the 20-goal plateau. He’s generating 11.67 shots per hour at 5-on-5, roughly double his rate from last season.
That said, Hartman’s overall game has been surprising. Not only is he scoring at a ridiculous rate, but he’s driving play, making things happen, and playing strong defensively. It’s precisely why Guerin offered him term. His team-mentality and complete game are two attributes the Wild GM would like to see from every player.
Like Hartman, Foligno has continued to impress each season since he arrived in Minnesota, which undoubtedly became a turning point in his career. The 30-year-old veteran has 12 points in 19 games thus far and has been a factor in every game.
Not only has he been dynamic offensively and a staple on the penalty kill, but he continues to be a solid defensive player, which has led to a 55 percent expected goals rate. The Wild have needed his physicality this season. He’s arguably the most valuable role player in the league, too.
Alex Goligoski and Jared Spurgeon
One takeaway from the first 19 games is that Alex Goligoski has seamlessly replaced Ryan Suter. The Goligoski-Spurgeon pair is one of the most dominant pairs this season. The Wild are near the top of the league when it comes to defensive point contributions, and a big reason for that is their top pair, which has combined for 20 points.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the veteran pair has a 56.4% expected goals rate at 5-on-5, 12th-best in the league among defensive pairs with 100-plus minutes. The Wild have dominated in terms of controlling shot attempts and scoring chances with the pair on the ice, too. It will be important that Spurgeon isn’t out too long because he’s integral to the defensive structure.
Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill
After Carson Soucy was plucked by the Seattle Kraken and Ian Cole departed for free agency, the Wild replaced the two blueliners with Kulikov and Merrill. Not only have they been an upgrade from last season, but they have been one of the best third pairs in the league.
They have posted ridiculous numbers in sheltered minutes to begin the season. The pair has controlled 55 percent of the shot attempts and has a 63.1% expected goals rate, fourth-best in the league. While their actual goals rate of 55% isn’t as dominant, it is still good for the 24th-best in the league.
The veteran pair continues to drive play, and do everything right behind the scenes despite their foot speed sometimes being a point of weakness. It’s become clear that this pair can hold their own as they have mastered their role this season.
Stock Down 📉
After a contentious summer when the Wild brought Fiala to arbitration this summer, showing their unwillingness to sign him long-term, it’s not shocking Fiala’s stock has fallen dramatically early in the season for his lack of production. Things are going so downhill that he is now in the rumors for being potentially dealt, potentially for a center.
Fiala has 12 points in 19 games, but he has only one goal and two primary assists at 5-on-5. The 25-year-old winger is struggling to get on the scoresheet right now, but he’s bound to go on a run sooner rather than later, considering his career-low 5.1 shooting percentage and strong play-driving numbers. Fiala is doing the right things despite it not translating to the scoresheet, which adds to the frustration with this situation.
Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen
The biggest problem the Wild have right now is the state of their goaltending. The alarm bells are going off because neither has been able to bring stability to the crease like last season. However, the last game against the New Jersey Devils was a positive sign, with Talbot posting a .952 save percentage and saving 1.92 goals above expected.
Talbot and Kahkonen allowed a combined 9.85 goals more than expected based on the quality of the shots they faced through the first 18 games of the season, which is the third-worst rank in the league behind the Seattle Kraken and Arizona Coyotes’ tandems. Likewise, in the first 18 games, the Wild’s tandem posted a .903 save percentage at 5-on-5.
This will undoubtedly be a strong storyline to monitor as the season progresses.
It’s become increasingly clear that it’s now or never for Greenway, who has yet to display any signs of progression and continues to struggle. The arrival of prospects Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy soon make it nearly impossible for him to remain in Minnesota long-term, especially considering his struggles right out of the gate this season.
Greenway’s six penalties, no goals, and three secondary assists this season is concerning. You have to wonder when he’ll get fully healthy after rushing back from a high-ankle sprain. It’s hard to believe he will remain on the roster much longer, given that he hasn’t made much of an impact this season.