The Minnesota Wild have a number of good players at the center position who could provide some much needed depth for the club this year. Let’s take a look at who will be lining up at center:
Minnesota’s unquestioned number one center, Koivu plays a terrific 200-foot game, and has a reputation around the league as being a two-way force in all phases of the game. He is still only 28 years old, and while injuries have cut his last two seasons short, his playmaking opportunities have steadily risen with the additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi prior to the 2011-12 season, and now Zach Parise this offseason. Wild fans hope to see him shake off the injury bug and make it through a full season, where he could easily post point-per-game numbers and continue to provide strong leadership.
Virginia, MN native and former St. Cloud State Husky Matt Cullen is no spring chicken, entering his age 36 season this year, but since joining the Wild he has shown that he can be a leader for the club’s young skaters. While his contributions may not always show up on the stat sheet, (that’s a euphemism for “he doesn’t score a lot of points,”) Cullen still plays a gritty style and shows a pretty good all-around game. He centered the second line last season, and to be honest I don’t see him keeping that spot this year, but he still brings a veteran presence to a team that has some very talented young players coming up through the system who could learn a lot from Cullen’s experience and leadership.
Since being traded from Edmonton three years ago, Brodziak has missed just two games, and last year he recorded the second-most ice time of any forward on the team (behind only Heatley) en route to his first 20-20 season. Like Koivu and Cullen, Brodziak plays a responsible two-way game, but he has been showing more offensive ability: his points have increased each year with the Wild, from 32 to 37 to 44 last year. He even chipped in with (5 +6 = 11) on the power play in 2011-12. He is just entering the prime of his career at age 27 and while some may say he is just a grinder or an “energy guy,” I think he can be an integral part of the team, eating up difficult minutes against tough assignments to allow the top six to focus on scoring.
Granlund is the most anticipated Wild prospect in years, and he figures to make a splash in the NHL this year, possibly even contending for Calder consideration. He is a highlight reel on skates and has been scoring prodigiously in the SM-liiga. Last year he posted (20+31=51) in just 45 games, good for 1.13 pts/gm. Granlund is a bit of a wildcard this year (no pun intended) and it is difficult to project how quickly he can adapt to the NHL game, but he is just 20 years old, so Wild fans will have many years to look forward to watching him distribute the puck. It will be interesting to see how head coach Mike Yeo uses Granlund; will he jump right in to the top six, or will he ease him in against softer competition? Wild fans didn’t need another reason to be excited about the team this year after the July-4th signings of both Parise and Suter, but Mikael Granlund will certainly be worth the price of admission when he makes his debut.