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Making playoffs not enough for Wild anymore

Have failed to advance past second round with veteran core, must strive to be better

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Correspondent

The Minnesota Wild's motto for the 2017-18 season is "good isn't good enough."

"We're always good, it seems," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We want to strive to be better than good. We want to be great. … We have a team that's built to win."

The Wild set their record for wins (49) and points (106) last season but were eliminated in in the Western Conference First Round by the St. Louis Blues. 

Among the few changes were forward Jason Pominville and defenseman Marco Scandella being traded to the Buffalo Sabres for forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno on June 30. Minnesota signed Foligno, a restricted free agent, to a four-year, $11.5 million contract on Sept. 14.

The Wild also re-signed restricted free agent forwards Mikael Granlund (three years, $17.25 million) and Nino Niederreiter (five years, $26.25 million), and extended the contract of captain Mikko Koivu for two years at $5.5 million per season, according to CapFriendly.com.

Forward Zach Parise missed training camp because of a back injury. The 33-year-old is expected to be ready in time for the season opener at the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 5.

Here is a look at the five keys for the Wild, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season:

 

5 KEYS

1. Eriksson Ek, Cullen replacements at center

Minnesota lost third-line forward Erik Haula, who had 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 72 games last season, to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. Center Martin Hanzal, added in a trade from the Arizona Coyotes on Feb. 26, signed with the Dallas Stars as a free agent. Boudreau said he will look to 20-year-old Joel Eriksson Ek to step into a third-line role. He had seven points (three goals, four assists) in 15 NHL games last season. Matt Cullen, 40, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract as a free agent, will be the fourth-line center.

Video: OTT@MIN: Eriksson Ek scores off Coyle's smooth feed

2. Repeat performance from Dubnyk

Goaltender Devan Dubnyk had a .923 save percentage, 2.25 goals-against average, and five shutouts for the third straight season. He made an NHL career-best 1,701 saves, and his 40 wins ranked fourth in the League. The Wild let backup Darcy Kuemper (Los Angeles Kings) leave as a free agent and have Alex Stalock and Steve Michalek as options to relieve Dubnyk's heavy workload (63 starts).

3. Prominent veteran presence

The bulk of Minnesota's roster is the same, with eight players 30 or older: Parise, Cullen, Koivu, Dubnyk, 31, Stalock, 30, center Eric Staal, 32, and defensemen Ryan Suter, 32, and Kyle Quincey, 32. Cullen has played 123 Stanley Cup Playoff games and has won the Cup three times (2006, 2016, 2017). Behind him is Parise and Suter, with 94 and 78 playoff games. "Experience is everything in this league," Suter said. "The more veteran guys you can get on your team, the more guys that can play the heavy minutes and have that experience to help your team, it suits you well."

4. Parise staying healthy

Boudreau said Parise missing camp was precautionary, but the alternate captain missed 13 games last season: three because of an illness, four with an upper-body injury, and six with a lower-body injury. He missed the 2016 playoffs because of a herniated disk. Parise had 42 points (19 goals, 23 assists) in 69 games, and three points (two goals, one assist) in five playoff games.

Video: STL@MIN, Gm1: Parise nets tic-tac-toe play, ties game

5. Dumba will play bigger role

With Scandella in Buffalo, there is a prime opportunity for defenseman Matt Dumba to step into a larger role. Dumba, 23, had 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) and averaged 20:20 of ice time per game last season. He will likely be on the second defense pair with Jonas Brodin. Dumba is in the final season of a two-year, $5.1 million contract and can become a restricted free agent July 1.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Biggest lock

Granlund led the Wild with 69 points and 43 assists, each an NHL career-high. His chemistry on the second line with Koivu and Jason Zucker yielded Minnesota's highest point total from any line last season, and each brought out the best in one another. Koivu, who had 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists) in 80 games, had his best season since 2010-11, and Zucker set an NHL career-high in points (47).

Video: MIN@COL: Granlund picks the corner from sharp angle

Biggest battle

Scandella's departure leaves the third defense pair wide open. Mike Reilly, 24, is most familiar to the Wild, spending time between Iowa of the American Hockey League and Minnesota the past two seasons. He had one point in 17 NHL games last season and was fourth in points for Iowa with 30 (five goals, 25 assists). Gustav Olofsson, 22, played 13 games and had three assists with Minnesota. He had 24 points (six goals, 18 assists) in Iowa. Another option is Quincey, who signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract. He had 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 73 games with the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets last season, and has 155 points (36 goals, 119 assists) in 568 NHL games.

Most intriguing addition

The four-year contract given to Foligno, who had 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists) with Buffalo last season, shows how much they value the 26-year-old forward. Foligno (6-foot-3, 228 pounds) brings much-needed size, and his willingness to battle in the corners is a huge asset to a team in need of more grit.

"I think I have to be myself, and that's a physical game," Foligno said. "I'm playing with some great players in Eriksson Ek and [Charlie] Coyle right now, and my game is to make space for those guys; being strong, being smart along the boards. But then again I want to grow offensively and be able to contribute more points this season to benefit this team."

Biggest potential surprise

Luke Kunin, the No. 15 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is another rookie vying for a spot at center. Kunin, 19, left the University of Wisconsin after his sophomore season to sign with Minnesota on March 23. In two seasons at Wisconsin, he had 70 points (41 goals, 29 assists) and was named captain for 2016-17. Kunin had eight points (five goals, three assists) in 12 games with Iowa last season.

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Nino Niederreiter -- Eric Staal -- Zach Parise

Jason Zucker -- Mikko Koivu -- Mikael Granlund

Marcus Foligno -- Joel Eriksson Ek -- Charlie Coyle

Tyler Ennis -- Matt Cullen -- Chris Stewart

Ryan Suter -- Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin -- Matt Dumba

Mike Reilly -- Kyle Quincey

Devan Dubnyk

Alex Stalock

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