The Minnesota Wild are coming off a historic regular season, reeling off 53 wins and collecting 113 points. The record-breaking season happened because multiple players had career years. Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala surpassed their previous single-season highs in points, Ryan Hartman had his first 30-goal season, and Mats Zuccarello more than doubled his point total from last year.
Coming off a historic season that resulted in an early first-round exit again, Bill Guerin has vocalized numerous times that he believes the Wild will be just as good next season.
“Yeah, I think so. We gotta get to work and make sure that certain pieces fall into place,” Guerin said in a recent podcast interview with The Athletic’s Michael Russo. “But I do, I think we can be as good.”
But how do the Wild do that with their looming salary cap outlook? Minnesota will conduct business with a salary cap that’s nearly $13 million less than the rest of the league for next season. It will be almost $15 million less in the two years that follow.
Among the standouts this season was Fiala, who is fresh off a 33-goal, 85-point campaign. Not only did the 25-year-old game-breaker prove all the doubters wrong, but he paved his way to a lucrative payday this summer. The Wild will probably trade Fiala during an offseason that could feature multiple cap casualties.
Fiala’s departure will leave a major void in Minnesota’s lineup. Add in the possibility of more departures, and suddenly replicating this season doesn’t appear realistic. The Wild will have to replace that production from somewhere, especially if they don’t want to take a major step back next season — something that Guerin doesn’t seem willing to consider.
Several things will need to fall in place this summer for Minnesota to be in the same state they were this season. Luckily, they have one of the league’s deepest prospect pipelines. The Wild will need their prospects to offset the departures if they want a chance of finishing in the top three of the Central Division again next season.
There’s no question that prospects can completely change a team’s chances. Look no further than Matt Boldy, who formed a solid second line with Fiala and would have had strong Calder Trophy chances had he made the roster out of training camp.
Several different prospects could potentially make the Wild’s lineup next season. And because the Wild will be moving incredible offensive talent like Fiala, there will be more opportunity and minutes for Minnesota’s prospects next season. Marco Rossi and Calen Addison are two notable blue-chippers who could make the roster out of training camp.
Rossi had a strong year in Iowa, scoring 18 goals and 53 points in 63 games. Not only did he play in all situations, but he had a defensive role, too.
“Marco’s done everything we’ve asked of him. We want him to make the team,” Guerin said. “We want him to push for a spot. There would be nothing better.”
Rossi will be a huge addition for the Wild down the middle. He could potentially be the No. 2 center with Boldy by his side. Even though Rossi will have to earn his spot, he will likely get it considering his strong year in Iowa. In January, he also made some impressive plays in his two-game stint with the Wild.
Even though the Wild currently have eight defensemen on the payroll (assuming they extend RFA Jake Middleton), Addison will deservedly get some time next season.
“This year, [Addison’s] gotta come in and kick the door in,” Guerin said. “Tell everybody that he’s arrived. I do see him playing a lot for us next year.”
That could also mean that more changes are coming to the Wild’s blueline. While he only tallied four points, Addison was fantastic in his NHL call-ups. He had a 60 percent expected goal share and displayed promising signs of NHL readiness. Moreover, the 22-year-old was a major part of Iowa’s blue line this season. He notched 34 points in 43 games, leading Iowa defensemen.
And then there’s Adam Beckman, who had four goals and five points during an impressive preseason before heading to Iowa. The 21-year-old made a strong impression and could grab a spot. Even prospects like Mason Shaw, Nick Swaney, and Mitchell Chaffee could appear in some games, too.
Add that to the Wild’s growing crop of young talent in Kaprizov (25), Joel Eriksson Ek (25), Jordan Greenway (25), Brandon Duhaime (25), Tyson Jost (24), Connor Dewar (22), and Boldy (21), and there are reasons to be optimistic heading into next season.
But 113 points optimistic? Deep playoff run optimistic? We’ll have to see how these kids step in and step up. There’s no doubt that Minnesota will depend on their young talent and top prospects to offset their offseason departures.