NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Minnesota Wild.
The Minnesota Wild needed to do two important things during the offseason: Find a new coach and improve their depth at center.
With the hiring of coach Bruce Boudreau and the signing of unrestricted free agent center Eric Staal, the Wild feel they succeeded.
Video: 30 in 30: Minnesota Wild 2016-17 season preview
Boudreau was hired May 7, eight days after he was fired by the Anaheim Ducks. In nine seasons as coach of the Ducks and Washington Capitals, Boudreau won eight division titles but reached the conference final once.
Wild 30 in 30: Top prospects | Fantasy outlook | Burning questions, reasons for optimism
The move to Minnesota brought Boudreau's hockey life full circle. He began his professional career as a player with the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association in 1975-76. That team played its home games at St. Paul Civic Center, which was demolished in the late 1990s to make room for Xcel Energy Center.
"I hope I can bring a Stanley Cup to this state," Boudreau said. "It's something that I've looked forward to, for a hockey market like this, to come in with, I think, a team that has always been a tough opponent for any team that I've ever coached. Going forward I think we're going to be even better."
To help make the Wild better, Staal, 31, was signed to a three-year, $10.5 million contract on July 1. Though he isn't the player he was during his prime with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Wild believe they found a needed veteran presence who can win important faceoffs and drive possession. Staal had 13 goals and 39 points with the Hurricanes and New York Rangers last season, the lowest totals since his rookie season, but the feeling is Staal can rediscover his offensive game playing next to the skill players in the Wild lineup.
It's likely he'll begin training camp centering a line with left wing Zach Parise, who helped recruit Staal to Minnesota.
"Let's be honest, when you're 32 years old (Staal turns 32 on Oct. 29), you're not the same player you were when you were 25 or 26," general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "But we think this is a good situation for Eric, and obviously he felt the same way. We have some quality players he can play with and we certainly have an important role he can fill."
Fletcher said not having to give up a defenseman to find the center they needed also was key.
"The fact that we didn't have to sacrifice any of our young defensemen to fill these holes is important," Fletcher said. "I think the strength of our team remains the strength of our defense core."
In addition to Staal, the Wild also agreed to terms with forward Chris Stewart on a two-year contract to add size and some skill. He'll replace Thomas Vanek, who had the final year of his contract bought out June 24.
Other than those moves, little is different about the roster Boudreau inherits from coach John Torchetti.
Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Niederreiter beats Niemi to regain lead
That means Boudreau will be tasked with getting the most out of veteran forward Jason Pominville, who scored 11 goals last season, and helping younger forwards Mikael Granlund (24), Erik Haula (25), Jason Zucker (24) and Nino Niederreiter (23) take the next steps in their career.
"[The younger players are] going to get better and better," Boudreau said. "There is room to grow. The established players we have are all winners. Mikko [Koivu], Zach and Ryan [Suter] are not only guys who have won, but they have a burning desire to win. They will do what it takes to win, and those are guys I'm looking forward to ... I'll be leaning on them, talking to them a lot."