The Minnesota Wild addressed their No. 1 need at the trade deadline with Marc-Andre Fleury. But they also targeted another attribute they’ve lacked all year: size and grit.
It seems that they have been bullied all season, especially during their month and a half long slump. In ugly losses to the Calgary Flames (twice), Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, and Winnipeg Jets, Bill Guerin had enough and went into the trade deadline to get bigger and deeper. He did just that by adding Nicolas Deslauriers in exchange for a 2023 third-round pick and Jacob Middleton for Kaapo Kahkonen and a fifth-rounder.
D-Lo (Deslauriers) has been electric and instantly became fan-favorite in his first game with the Wild. He scored the game-winning goal, added six hits, and dragged rival Vegas Golden Knights forward William Karlsson out of the crease. Not only that, but he takes some of the pressure off Foligno when it comes to fighting.
“My role is the same here,” Deslauriers said, “[Marcus Foligno] chuckles all the time, any time he fights or I fight, we text each other. But I want to be that guy doing it, and I want him … how many goals does he have, 19? I don’t want him [to spend] five minutes in the box. I’ll do the five minutes.”
Foligno spoke to the media and raved about the Wild’s added grit after the 3-0 win over Vegas. “That’s what we needed,” he said. “We’re a team that has the skill and, in this case, might need a little more grit and physicality for the playoffs and the end of the season. You saw with Deslauriers and a guy like Middleton coming in, it just brings that presence.”
Middleton, who plays with Spurgeon instead of Alex Goligoski, has also been throwing his body around and stepping up at the blue line in the few games he has played in Minnesota. They needed Middleton’s 6’3″ frame at the blueline because the Wild have a smaller defensive core. It also takes some of the pressure off of the recently re-signed Goligoski, who was very good in the first half of the season but has struggled since. Now Goligoski can play on the third defensive pair, a role that suits him much better.
These recent additions also make the Wild much deeper. A team that relied on its depth all season suddenly has three bonafide NHL players scratched each night. That is vital because injuries are bound to happen in the playoffs. When they do, Minnesota can play experienced players rather than calling up rookies or career minor-leaguers in the postseason.
Their 4th line of Deslauriers, Tyson Jost, and Brandon Duhaime has also been a considerable improvement over their previous 4th line of Nick Bjugstad, Nico Sturm, and Duhaime, with Connor Dewar slotting in when needed. Their new and improved fourth line, though smaller, has played bigger. Bjugstad is a good player, but he does not play his size despite being 6’6″. Jost is also smaller than Sturm. However, his skill set and hockey IQ are much better. Mix that in with Duhaime, who has some skill and throws the body around, and all of a sudden the Wild are on a roll again.
Having depth at the bottom of the roster can power teams to victory. “We’ve got guys who know their roles, and that’s what’s exciting about this team,” Foligno later said. “When everyone’s clicking, we’re an unstoppable team. You bring in some guys who just want to win. That’s the mentality that we have – do whatever it takes to win.”
Guerin was hesitant to make big moves at the deadline. However, he did and made all the right ones. Not only did Guerin acquire good hockey players, but good locker room guys as well. He bolstered the team and did not seem to ruin any chemistry. Many Wild fans were worried a big splash at the deadline would disrupt the team’s good vibes, just like it did in the 2016-17 season when they added Martin Hanzal and Ryan White and limped into the playoffs. But now that they’re on a winning streak, that concern is far in the rearview mirror.
The Wild’s roster looks strong, deep, and dangerous with 17 games left in the regular season. The trade deadline is behind them, and playoff hockey is just around the corner. For arguably the first time in the history of their franchise, they look like a true Stanley Cup contender.