COACH: Dean Evason (142-67-23 in three-plus seasons).
SEASON OPENER: Oct. 12 vs. Florida.
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK STANLEY CUP ODDS: 30-1.
LAST SEASON: The Wild posted their second consecutive 100-point season in 2022-23, finishing third in the Central Division before finding more first-round frustration in a six-game defeat by the Dallas Stars for their eighth straight postseason series loss. After several forwards had career years in 2021-22, the production dropped off and the Wild finished just 23rd in the NHL in goals scored. The blue line was sound again behind longtime stalwarts Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin and the newcomer Gustavsson emerged as the top goalie down the stretch. The Wild ranked sixth in the league in goals allowed.
STRENGTHS: With a first line featuring Kirill Kaprizov, the Wild have a potent trio up front with Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman enjoying the most productive years of their careers while skating with the Russian superstar. The Wild have a forward group that’s solid defensively, too. Spurgeon and Brodin lead another strong blue line, even with the departure of Dumba. As long as Gustavsson doesn't regress after his breakout, there's a formidable pair with Fleury in the net.
WEAKNESSES: There are still not enough consistent scoring threats after Kaprizov's line, with Matt Boldy and Joel Eriksson Ek the next best sources of goals. Eriksson Ek is the team's best center, but depth at that position is lacking. There's also a dearth of offensive potential on the blue line, the biggest drawback to letting Dumba leave as a free agent. Spurgeon, Brodin and Jacob Middleton, their top three defensemen, combined for 17 goals last season.
WHAT TO EXPECT: The Wild are still in a bit of a holding pattern while they navigate the salary cap baggage from the jettisoning of cornerstones Zach Parise and Ryan Suter two years ago, unable to add any significant players this summer but plenty confident in their returning core. There's no reason why the Wild can't return to the playoffs, and in the NHL just getting in always gives teams a fighting chance. Kaprizov needs more top-flight scorers around him for the Wild to become a true contender.
PLAYER TO WATCH: C Marco Rossi. The ninth overall pick in the 2020 draft will likely center veterans Marcus Foligno and Frederick Gaudreau. Rossi, whose start in the NHL was sidetracked two years ago by a bout with COVID-19 and the heart condition myocarditis, had one point in 19 games last season. The 22-year-old native of Austria needs to show progress if he's going to be part of the long-term plan.
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL
The Associated Press