NHL Season Opener: Five Minnesota Wild Players To Watch vs. Colorado

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NHL Season Opener-Minnesota Wild: 5 Players To Watch vs. Colorado

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Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY SPORTS

The puck will finally drop on the NHL season on Saturday, and perhaps no team enters the truncated 48-game season with higher expectations than the Minnesota Wild as they look to end their playoff drought.

Minnesota went all in during free agency last summer by signing left winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts. It is a homecoming for Parise after spending his entire career up to this point with the New Jersey Devils, and his father J.P. played for the Minnesota North Stars in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Suter spent his first seven NHL seasons with the Nashville Predators and earned his first career All-Star Game appearance in 2012. It would have been big news for Minnesota to sign either Parise or Suter alone, but bringing both aboard doubles the excitement for the fan base.

The Wild will welcome the Colorado Avalanche to Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night for the first of three home games to open the season, in what will also put a nice cap on “Hockey Day Minnesota” for local hockey fans.

All eyes will certainly be on Parise and Suter in their Wild debut Saturday night and every game after that, but there are plenty of other players who will need to be significant contributors for the team to reach their goals this season. In this shortened season, teams that have good depth will have a distinct advantage, and Minnesota seems to be well-positioned in that regard.

With that, here are five players I feel hold the keys to a season-opening win for the Wild.

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5. Right Wing Dany Heatley

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Heatley led the Wild in goals scored last season with 24, which is a perch he’ll certainly have to cede to someone else if the team is to reach their goals this season. It’s unclear how coach Mike Yeo will put together his forward lines right now, but Heatley should benefit from the upgrade in talent around him and that starts on Saturday night.

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4. Defenseman Ryan Suter

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The Wild have a largely unproven group of defenseman right now, so Suter will step right in as a veteran leader apart from his on-ice production. In 28 career games against Colorado, he has 12 points (0 goals, 12 assists), so even without scoring a bunch of goals his effectiveness offensively will be a key factor on Saturday night.

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3. Center Mikko Koivu

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Koivu is largely being overlooked with the additions the Wild have made, but there is no doubt he is one of the best two-way centers in the league when healthy. He is likely to serve as a prominent mentor to rookie Mikael Granlund since they are both native to Finland, and that should serve to re-invigorate him and help both players produce on the ice. Who winds up on Koivu's forward line will be worth watching against Colorado.

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2. Winger/Center Pierre-Marc Bouchard

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SPORTS

Bouchard is one player who the lockout may have benefited, since has been limited to 97 games over the last three seasons by concussion issues. He has been medically cleared to play, and even if he is eased back into action on Saturday night his mere presence on the ice should have a positive effect on everyone in the arena.

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1. Left Wing Zach Parise

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SPORTS

Fair or not, every move Parise makes throughout the season will be heavily scrutinized. If he scores a quick goal or makes another impact play early in the game Saturday night, it could lead to an “Avalanche” of positive momentum for the Wild.

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