An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Minnesota Wild.
Will Bruce Boudreau's system work in Minnesota?
The Wild traditionally have been a very defense-first team. They finished 18th in the NHL in goals scored (213) last season, but were ninth in goals against, allowing an average of 2.5 per game. Under Boudreau, the Anaheim Ducks ranked 17th in goals scored and first in goals allowed last season, a sign of which team had the majority of the puck possession. For years, Wild fans have been clamoring for more offense. If recent history shows anything, it's that Boudreau is the right man to make that happen in Minnesota. Players have bought into his plan, and you can feel the excitement in the locker room at the opportunity to play a quicker game with more scoring opportunities.
Is Eric Staal the missing piece?
On the first day of Wild training camp, Boudreau said he is familiar with Staal's capability. He knows what he can expect out of him, and he expects to see him at his full potential this season. Zach Parise made similar comments. It's that support that suggests Staal could be the missing piece the Wild need to make the transition from a good team to a great one. At 31, Staal should have plenty of gas left in the tank. He's coming off a career-low in points (39), but that could be used as motivation to improve this season.
Video: Staal goes five-hole for goal
Which young players could make an impact?
Right wing Alex Tuch, the Wild's first-round pick (No. 18) in the 2014 NHL Draft, was quick to impress coaches and teammates at camp. His size (6-foot-4, 222 pounds) and speed are a force to be reckoned with, and his ability to move the puck have been apparent during the Wild's preseason games. In two years at Boston College, he had a combined 62 points (32 goals, 30 assists) and helped the Eagles reach the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals earlier this year. Tuch signed a three-year, entry-level contract on April 13, and he's making a strong case to be named to the opening night roster, and an even stronger case to be a mainstay with the Wild all season.
Center Joel Eriksson Ek is another player who may be able to work his way up and see some ice time in Minnesota this season. Eriksson Ek's speed is an asset that will seemingly work perfectly in Boudreau's up-tempo system. Other players to keep on the radar are forwards Sam Anas, Zac Dalpe, Kurtis Gabriel, and defenseman Mike Reilly.
Video: BOS@MIN: Reilly scores first NHL goal
Will cutting back Ryan Suter's ice time help?
Since joining the Wild in 2012, Suter has been a common sight on the ice, and often; the defenseman has logged an average of 28:44 minutes in four seasons. Boudreau said it's time to alleviate some of that workload. Matt Dumba averaged 16:50 last season, Reilly averaged 12:05. Suter's play was rarely affected by the heavy amount of ice time; in fact, he often thrived. But not only will this allow Suter more rest and potentially help his game, it gives Dumba and Reilly more of an opportunity.
Can Devan Dubnyk continue to carry the load in goal?
Dubnyk was the cog that kept the machine running again last season, even when things sputtered. Dubnyk was the Wild's go-to goaltender, playing in a career-high 67 games, which also tied for first in games played by goalies in the League. He finished the season 32-26-6 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. It's been one year since he was named a Vezina Trophy finalist, but Dubnyk thinks the work put in during the offseason will have him back in that conversation again this season. Expect him to carry the majority of the workload again, with Darcy Kuemper stepping in as needed. Kuemper went 6-7-5 with a 2.43 GAA and a .915 save percentage last season. The Wild also agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with Alex Stalock on July 1. He was 24-19-7 with a 2.37 GAA and a .911 save percentage over the past five seasons with the San Jose Sharks.
Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Dubnyk shuts down Hemsky with skate