Despite the fact that they acquired some big name talent last summer, signing both Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, the Minnesota Wild weren’t expected to make too much noise in the Western Conference. They made the playoffs, but were quickly dispatched of by the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks.
As we head into the 2013-14 season, however, this is a team that should be taken much more seriously. They still employ the likes of Suter and Parise, along with the talent that they already had in the mix, but with young players taking a step forward, and a healthy roster, this team will make some noise in the new season.
The Wild are top heavy, but not so much that it will hurt them. At the top of their group of forwards you have Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville. That’s in addition to a healthy Dany Heatley. Young guys like Mikael Granlund could make a big impact, while players like Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker will provide depth up front.
On the blue line, there is a mix of veterans and young guys, starting with Suter, who logs more minutes than virtually any defender on the planet. He’s joined by Jonas Brodin, who is an outstanding young defender for Minnesota. Potentially add in Matt Dumba, as well as depth guys like Keith Ballard and Jared Spurgeon, and you have a pretty strong group.
The questions for this team reside between the pipes. Is Niklas Backstrom healthy? If he is, can he rebound from one of the worst years of his career? Can Josh Harding, an inspiration story no matter where your loyalties lie, stay healthy enough to perform at a high level in the event that Backstrom falters? Is Darcy Kuemper ready to take over if he has to?
This may not be a team that is going to win a Stanley Cup this year. Their young talent isn’t quite ready yet to provide the type of depth they’ll need to take home a title. But this isn’t a team that will accept a first round exit anymore. They’re a club to be taken seriously, and they’ll prove it in 2013-14.