If groin problems had not limited Marian Gaborik to 48 games last season, there’s a good chance the Wild would’ve come up with the two extra points they would’ve needed to eclipse Vancouver for the Northwest Division championship and the third seed in the West. The gifted Gaborik scored 30 goals (including a dozen on the power play) and 57 points in those 48 games.
Gaborik, 25, has been the picture of offensive consistency for the last several seasons. He has not gone more than three-straight games without a point in the last two-and-a-half seasons, and is a virtual lock for 30 or more goals every season. If he stays healthy, he’s capable of flirting with the 50-goal plateau. It was no coincidence that the Wild went off on a 10-4-2 surge in the first 16 games after Gaborik returned to the lineup last year from the groin injury.
In the playoffs, Anaheim keyed on containing Gaborik’s line with veteran Slovak countryman Pavol Demitra, but Gaborik still managed to score three goals and four points in the five-game series. Demitra, meanwhile, scored a goal and added three assists in a losing effort after tallying 25 goals and 64 assists during the regular season. The two were often joined by Branko Radivojevic (11 goals, 24 points) to form an all-Slovakian line. Radivojevic dressed in every game last season.
Meanwhile, American speedster Brian Rolston has posted back-to-back 30 goal seasons and tied with Demitra for the team point lead in 2006-07. Rolston’s 13 power-play goals led the club. Rolston has typically been a bit of a streaky scorer during his career, and last season was no exception. He had stretches of 10 goals in 11 games (Oct. 7 to Nov. 2), tallies in three-consecutive games (Dec. 2-7) and five goals in five games (Dec. 26 to Jan. 2). But he also went pointless in three-straight games (Jan. 4-9), followed shortly thereafter by a four game point drought (Jan. 14-20), plus a scoring slump of one goal in 13 games (Jan. 30 to March 6).
Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s lack of size has not stopped him from becoming a valuable offensive contributor in the NHL. The former first-round pick is coming off a 20-goal, 57 point campaign in which he dressed for every game in the season. When he’s clicking, the Wild’s attack becomes considerably more dangerous. Meanwhile, Mikko Koivu made enormous strides as a second-year NHLer and should continue to build on his solid 2006-07 campaign (20 goal, 54 points).
Among the Wild’s supporting cast of forwards, 37-year-old Wes Walz and Mark Parrish will continue to occupy important stabilizing roles. Parrish is still capable of 20-plus goals per season and is good on the power play. Walz, an original member of the team, remains a leader, penalty killer and opportunistic scorer.
The Wild won a lot of games on special teams last year with their sixth-ranked power play and the second best penalty kill in the NHL.
The speed of players like Gaborik and Rolston, the ice vision of players such as Bouchard and Demitra and the all-around ability exhibited by Rolston, Koivu and others helps make Minnesota one of the NHL’s better special-teams clubs. With the continued growth and maturity of some the Wild’s younger players, it’s possible to see further improvement.
Up and Coming
Petr Kalus -- Originally selected by the Boston Bruins in the second round (39th overall) in the 2005 Entry Draft. … 20-year old came to the Wild in the trade that sent Manny Fernandez to Boston. … Made his NHL debut on March 24, 2007 against the New York Rangers. … Tallied his first NHL point with a goal at Ottawa on March 27 on his first NHL shot on goal. … Also scored goals on his second and third NHL shots. In all, he scored four goals and five points during his nine-game recall. … Possesses good size (6-foot-1, 186 pounds) and speed. … Injuries last season limited him to 43 AHL games with Providence, in which he produced 13 goals and 30 points. …. In 2005-06, scored 36 goals and 58 points in 60 WHL games for the Regina Pats.
James Sheppard -- Wild selected him in the first round (ninth overall) in the 2006 Entry Draft. … Center was hampered by a back injury early last season after rookie conditioning camp. … Missed the first 12 games of the 2006-07 QMJHL season with Cape Breton. …. Upon his return, 6-foot-1, 205-pound pivot scored 33 goals and 96 points in 56 games. ..
Compiled nine goals and 27 points in the final 15 games of the regular season. … Continued strong play in the playoffs, tallying 20 points in 16 games. … Known for his two-way ability as well as puck skills.
Morten Madsen -- Selected by Minnesota in the fourth round (122nd overall) of the 2005 Entry Draft. … Signed to an entry level contract in May. … 20-year-old Dane who can play both center and wing. … Coming off a successful first season in North America, scoring 100 points (32 G, 68 A) for the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigers.
Roman Voloshenko -- Minnesota selected the Belarusian left winger in the second round (42nd overall) of the 2004 Entry Draft. … In 2005-06, he made a splash in his rookie AHL season with the Houston Aeros. … Scoring 33 goals and 60 points as a rookie, while playing on a line with Erik Westrum and longtime AHL standout Kirby Law. .. Took a step backwards in 2006-07, scoring just 11 goals and 30 points in 76 games.
Danny Irmen -- A product of the University of Minnesota, the 22-year-old right wing is a favorite among the Wild faithful. … Has also played center during his career. … Wild selected him in the third round (78th overall) of the 2003 Entry Draft. …A fine offensive player at University of Minnesota. …At the AHL level in 2006-07, scored 17 goals and 37 points in 80 games.
Benoit Pouliot -- Early last season, 2005 first-round pick Pouliot looked to be on track to make a quick impact on the Wild’s NHL lineup. After rocketing out of the gates with the Aeros (11 goals in his first 15 games), the crafty left winger earned his first NHL callup in November. The recall lasted three games. Lemaire noted that the player still needed to continue rounding out his game, and it was better for him to do so at the American League level. Pouliot struggled upon his return to Houston, finishing the season with 19 goals, 36 points and 109 penalty minutes. Pouliot, who endured a similar slump early in his final season with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, had just two goals and 11 points over the final 28 games of the AHL campaign.
Nevertheless, expectations remain high for the 6-foot-3, 195-pound winger. He has a combination of soft hands, acceleration and anticipation that make him an exciting player to watch. His future is in his own hands, according to the Wild.