NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, three questions facing the Minnesota Wild.
The Minnesota Wild enter this season with a different look after the additions of forwards Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for forward Jason Pominville and defenseman Marco Scandella. Foligno and Ennis will provide more forward depth for the Wild, who ranked second in the NHL in goals per game (3.21) and ninth in power-play efficiency (21.0 percent) last season.
The Wild are looking to not only repeat their regular-season success after finishing with the most wins (49) and points (106) in their history, but advance beyond the Western Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2002-03.
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1. Will Joel Eriksson Ek become an impact player?
The Wild's depth at center took a hit when they decided not to re-sign Martin Hanzal and lost Erik Haula to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. Eriksson Ek could ease the blow, even if it means starting on the fourth line.
He impressed last season with seven points (three goals, four assists) in 15 games, averaging 10:36 of ice time, but will need to show more responsibility in his end to gain the trust of coach Bruce Boudreau. Eriksson Ek is capable of adapting quickly and is expected to adjust his game accordingly.
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2. Which players need to step up to assure playoff success?
Centers Mikko Koivu, 34, and Eric Staal, 32, left wing Zach Parise, 33, and defenseman Ryan Suter, 32, aren't getting any younger. None has made it past the second round of the playoffs with the Wild.
Center Mikael Granlund, 25, who led the Wild in scoring with 69 points last season; right wing Nino Niederreiter, 24, who had NHL career highs in goals (25) and points (57); and center Charlie Coyle, 25, who had an NHL career high 38 assists and 56 points, need to continue to raise their level of play. The acquisition of Foligno, 26, should provide a spark. Foligno (6-foot-3, 228 pounds) ranked fifth in the League with an NHL career-high 279 hits last season.
Forwards Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin, and defensemen Gustav Olofsson and Mike Reilly, need to provide help.
3. Can Devan Dubnyk lead the Wild to playoff prominence?
Dubnyk, 31, who was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 14, 2015, ranks second in the NHL with 108 wins since 2014-15. He had a 1.86 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in a five-game series loss to the St. Louis Blues in the first round, but a key to assure Dubnyk is primed for a stronger postseason run is keeping him fresh. Having a backup goalie capable of playing 25-30 games is crucial.
The Wild signed Niklas Svedberg to a one-year, two-way contract on July 1, so expect him to push backup goalie Alex Stalock for playing time in training camp. Dubnyk has played at least 65 games in each of his two full seasons with the Wild.