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Wild season preview: Health of Dumba, Koivu key in bid for playoff return

Addition of Zuccarello should help Minnesota cause

by Jessi Pierce / Independent Correspondent

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Minnesota Wild.

Coach: Bruce Boudreau (fourth season)

Last season: 37-36-9; seventh place Central Division


1. Health of Dumba, Koivu

Matt Dumba has gone full throttle throughout camp, eager and ready to return from a torn pectorial muscle that ended his season on Dec. 15 after 32 games. Prior to the injury, he led NHL defensemen with 12 goals and hopes to improve upon an NHL career-high 50 points (14 goals, 36 assists) in 82 games in 2017-18. 

Center Mikko Koivu has been an active participant in camp after coming back from surgery to repair a torn ACL on Feb. 18. But the 36-year-old captain and Minnesota coaching staff have limited activity when possible and are easing him into practices and games.


2. Donato's rise

Ryan Donato, acquired with a conditional draft pick in a trade with the Boston Bruins for center Charlie Coyle on Feb. 20, had 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 22 games for the Wild and is poised to center Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello on the second line. That's sure to help his, and Minnesota's, offensive output. 

Video: NYR@MIN: Donato deflects Kunin's shot for second goal


3. Zuccarello's impact

Zuccarello, signed by the Wild on July 1, has 355 points (114 goals, 241 assists) in 511 NHL games with the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars. Minnesota was shut out 11 times last season and finished 27th in the NHL in scoring, with 210 goals. Parise has touted Zuccarello's ability to not just score, but to set up the play and move the puck down low. 

Video: Mats Zuccarello, Wild agree to five-year contract


4. Eriksson Ek's improvement

Center Joel Eriksson Ek, who has 37 points (16 goals, 21 assists) in 148 NHL games, has shown flashes and last season spent stretches with Iowa of the American Hockey League to develop. The 22-year-old played a big role after Koivu was injured and proved himself capable of being looked at as a No. 3 center; it will be interesting to see how the pecking order with Koivu, Eric Staal, Donato and others plays out.


5. Offseason moves

Minnesota missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven seasons and has not made it past the first round since 2002-03. That played a part in the firing of general manager Paul Fenton on July 30, 14 months after he was hired. Fenton was replaced by Bill Guerin on Aug. 21 after he spent eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, including the past five as assistant GM. 

Before Fenton was fired, the Wild signed forward Ryan Hartman on July 1 in addition to Zuccarello but were quiet after Guerin was hired. Minnesota re-signed defenseman Jared Spurgeon to a seven-year, $53.025 million contract (average annual value $7.575 million) on Sept. 14. and re-signed restricted free agents Eriksson Ek (two years) and forward Kevin Fiala (two years). It remains to be seen whether those tweaks are enough to get the Wild back in playoff contention.




Making the cut

With veteran talent to carry the heavy workload, up-and-coming players Eriksson Ek, Donato, 22-year-old forward Jordan Greenway and 21-year-old center Luke Kunin are expected to make a bigger impact. Centers Victor Rask and Nico Sturm and forward J.T. Brown are likely to be victimized by roster numbers and are likely to at least begin the season in the AHL.


Most intriguing addition

Zuccarello, who signed a five-year, $30 million contract (average annual value $6 million), has experience and offensive ability. He finished last season with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 13 playoff games for Dallas. Prior to being traded to the Stars on Feb. 23 and before breaking his arm in his first game with Dallas the next day, Zuccarello had 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 46 games with the Rangers.


Biggest potential surprise

Kunin looks to begin his first full NHL season after spending the past two dealing with an ACL injury and splitting time in the minors. The No. 15 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft had 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 49 NHL games last season and, given the right line combination, could live up to previous expectations. 

Video: MIN@WSH: Kunin picks the top corner on Holtby


Ready to break through

Fiala, acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators for center Mikael Granlund on Feb. 25, has 104 points (48 goals, 56 assists) in 223 NHL games. The 23-year-old had seven points (three goals, four assists) in 19 games with the Wild.


Fantasy sleeper

Donato (average draft position: 163.6) was productive after being acquired from the Bruins (16 points in 22 games) last season and could play on the opposite wing of a valuable forward in either Parise or Zuccarello this season. -- Pete Jensen



Jason Zucker -- Eric Staal -- Kevin Fiala

Zach Parise -- Ryan Donato -- Mats Zuccarello 

Jordan Greenway -- Mikko Koivu -- Luke Kunin 

Marcus Foligno -- Joel Eriksson Ek -- Ryan Hartman

Matt Dumba -- Ryan Suter

Jared Spurgeon -- Jonas Brodin 

Nick Seeler -- Greg Pateryn 

Devan Dubnyk 

Alex Stalock

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