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Season Preview: Minnesota Wild

Coach Bruce Boudreau tasked with finding ways to generate more offense

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Correspondent
At a glance

2015-16 record: 38-33-11 (87 points), 5th in Central Division, 8th in Western Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Lost in Western Conference First Round against Dallas Stars in six games

Additions: F: Pat Cannone, Eric Staal, Chris Stewart; D: Victor Bartley; G: Alex Stalock

Subtractions: F: Justin Fontaine, Chris Porter, Jarret Stoll, Thomas Vanek

 
Projected opening night lineup 

Forwards

Zach Parise -- Eric Staal -- Charlie Coyle

Jason Zucker -- Mikko Koivu -- Mikael Granlund

Nino Niederreiter -- Erik Haula -- Jason Pominville  

Kurtis Gabriel -- Ryan Carter -- Chris Stewart  

Joel Eriksson Ek

Defensemen

Ryan Suter -- Jonas Brodin  

Marco Scandella -- Jared Spurgeon

Mike Reilly -- Matt Dumba  

Christian Folin

Goalies

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper

Alex Stalock

Video: Bruce Boudreau on becoming coach of Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild experienced another roller-coaster season in 2015-16, one that included a six-game winning streak and an eight-game losing streak in the span of two months. After the eight-game skid, the Wild fired coach Mike Yeo on Feb. 13. Under interim coach John Torchetti, they made a late-season run into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

The Wild hired coach Bruce Boudreau on May 7, and added assistants Scott Stevens and John Anderson in June. Boudreau is 409-192-80 in nine NHL seasons with the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks, and has won eight division titles.

There will be a huge change in offensive presence and speed under Boudreau. Minnesota finished 18th in scoring last season. The Ducks scored 215 goals and finished 17th in the League under Boudreau. Anaheim scored 1,066 goals in the five seasons he was coach. 

As for the roster, the Wild bought out the final year of Thomas Vanek's three-year, $19.5 million contract after an NHL career-low 18 goals, and 23 assists. The buyout made room to add longtime Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal, who agreed to terms on a three-year, $10.5 million contract July 1. Forwards Pat Cannone and Chris Stewart were also added as free agents.

Staal, 31, is expected to have an immediate impact, but it comes with caution. He has 781 points (325 goals, 456 assists) in 929 NHL games, but is coming off one of his worst seasons since his rookie year in 2003-04. After being traded to the New York Rangers on Feb. 28, Staal finished the regular season with a combined 13 goals and 39 points; he had 54 points in 2014-15 with Carolina. Minnesota hopes Staal centering left wing Zach Parise, and moving Charlie Coyle from center to right wing, will increase point production for all three players.

Boudreau has made it clear that things will be different in the defensive zone too. He does not expect defenseman Ryan Suter to be playing as many minutes; he has averaged 28:44 the past four seasons with Minnesota. That leaves room for players like Matt Dumba and Mike Reilly to step up and get more ice time.  

It's a new season, new coach and new system in Minnesota, and combined it might be a recipe for success in 2016-17.

Video: Staal goes five-hole for goal

 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

If Boudreau's system works like it did with the Capitals and Ducks, the Wild will still be playing after the regular season. Minnesota also will need big seasons from players like Mikko Koivu (56 points last season), Parise (53 points), Coyle (42 points) and Staal. If each can improve their point production, or at least match it, and if goalie Devan Dubnyk can maintain strength and consistency, the Wild could be poised for a solid playoff run. But a looming question also remains: Will Boudreau be able to shake his playoff history and make it past a Game 7, where he holds a career record of 1-7?

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Inconsistency has plagued the Wild the past two seasons. If they can't find a new rhythm under Boudreau and if the offense doesn't click, it's going to be tough for them to get through the challenging Central Division. 

 

Breakout candidate

Dumba. He has been gradually developing in the Wild's system since he was selected with the No. 7 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. Dumba finally began to come into his own last season, setting NHL career highs in goals (10), assists (16) and points (26), finishing 11th on the Wild in scoring. With Boudreau looking to lessen the load on Suter, it's likely he will lean on Dumba to pick up that ice time. With that, Dumba (6-foot, 193 pounds) is primed to improve on last season and become more of a threat on the Wild's defense. 

Video: MIN@WPG: Dumba beats Hellebuyck down low 

 
On the hot seat

Staal. The veteran center knows the pressure surrounding him. Though Staal is not expected to be the Wild's leading scorer, he will need to make an impact centering Parise and Coyle. If he can increase his point production and create the scoring opportunities for his wings, he'll be a welcomed teammate in Minnesota. 

 

Trophy candidates

Dubnyk (Vezina)

 

Quotable

"We were all pretty disappointed with how things went last year at the end of the season. I think [with Boudreau], we feel really good and really optimistic. We're hoping these changes are going to get us playing consistently on a high level and among the top teams in the League." -- forward Zach Parise

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