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Wild counting on improved power play, Dubnyk repeat

by Dan Myers continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Not much changed in the offseason for the Minnesota Wild, who will attempt to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season in 2015-16.

The front office likely wasn't inclined to make many moves after the Wild were one of the NHL's best teams over the final two months of the 2014-15 regular season.

Minnesota is counting on several young players to take another step in their development so it can move past the Western Conference Second Round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

"There are a lot of good young players in the organization, and I think it shows," defenseman Ryan Suter said. "I think they've done a good job. They can make plays and they are fun to watch."

Minnesota's 227 goals were tied for 12th in the NHL last season, but there is plenty of room for improvement for a number of key contributors.

The Wild are counting on another 30-goal season from left wing Zach Parise; the 33 he scored in 2014-15 were his most in three seasons in Minnesota.

"We know how we want to play," Parise said. "We know what makes us a good team and what makes us an average team. But I still think that there are going to be players wanting more and challenging for different spots, which I think is good. It's healthy for us to have that internal competition."

This season could be a career-defining one for center Mikael Granlund, who the Wild desperately need to become a more consistent playmaker. Despite seeing a hefty bump in his plus/minus (plus-10 to plus-21), he had 39 points in 68 games last season after he had 41 in 63 in 2013-14.

Granlund will center the top line with Parise and right wing Jason Pominville, who scored 30 goals two seasons ago but had 18 in 2014-15, thanks in part to a modest 7.1 percent shooting percentage (career average: 11.2).

Left wing Jason Zucker scored 21 goals in 51 games last season and could score 30 goals if he stays healthy. The same goes for right wing Nino Niederreiter, who had 24 goals and likely will begin the season with Zucker and center Mikko Koivu on the second line.

"You have to stick to doing what you're good at and you have to learn to adapt and make adjustments, because I think now, people know who you are," Parise said. "It's tougher once you've had a good season. [Defensemen] pay a little more attention to where you are on the ice.

"Sometimes, you have to learn to get to different areas and find different ways to score. I'm sure they'll be fine. They are hard-working guys and they are hungry to get better. I don't think anyone is too worried about them."

Charlie Coyle switched between center and right wing in 2014-15, but he will begin the season in the middle on the third line with veteran left wing Thomas Vanek and right wing Justin Fontaine. Minnesota is hoping for a healthy season from Vanek, who dealt with a sports hernia almost all of last season and finished with a career-low 21 goals.

Suter led the NHL in ice time per game last season (29:03) and likely will be among the leaders again this season. The Wild would be smart to lessen the load for Suter, who is entering his 11th NHL season and will turn 31 on Jan. 21.

"We've talked about that a lot, but don't expect to see him playing 18-20 minutes," coach Mike Yeo said. "He's a premier defenseman in the League and he's hugely responsible for us becoming a team that's well-respected around the League. I don't think you should expect to see him 30 minutes a night. I would say on average, you should expect to see him 24-26 [minutes]."

Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon have anchored the Wild's second defense pair for three seasons, but they could be split up at the start of the season. Yeo prefers defensemen on their strong hand and believes moving Jonas Brodin to the left side could open up a new facet of his offensive game. That means Spurgeon, who is right-handed, will move to the top pair with Suter.

"I think it gives us more flexibility," Suter said. "It gives me more flexibility playing with a right shot, and I think it will allow me to be more offensive."

Brodin will skate on the second pair with Matt Dumba, and Scandella will be on the third pair with either Nate Prosser or Christian Folin.

Expect Scandella to take on more of a role on the power play. With his booming shot from the point, he scored an NHL career-high 11 goals last season.

Brodin is not flashy and won't put up big points, but he's an elite skater who has seen his minutes increase in each of his three seasons in the League.

Up and down between the NHL and AHL during the first half of last season, Dumba put together a fantastic second half and established himself as one of Minnesota's critical building blocks down the stretch. Dumba, who turned 21 this summer, could be ready for a breakout season, especially if he gets more time on the power play.

"The guys that we have and the guys that were here when I came here have grown so much," Suter said. "I tell people our D corps, I'd put up against anyone in the League. We have depth, we have guys that can skate; we're definitely a top-five D corps in this league."

The Wild invested in Devan Dubnyk this offseason, re-signing him to a six-year contract reportedly worth $26 million. With its playoff hopes on life support in mid-January, Minnesota traded a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to the Arizona Coyotes for Dubnyk, who went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage with the Wild to help them qualify for the postseason and finish third in Vezina Trophy voting.

"The way I was treated here [last season] with the organization and the fans, I'm extremely happy to be here for a long time," Dubnyk said.

Dubnyk will get most of the starts this season, but the Wild are hoping to see improvement from Darcy Kuemper, who has been inconsistent in 63 NHL games.

Niklas Backstrom, who had offseason elbow surgery, will provide some veteran insurance in case of injury.


Mike Reilly

2014-15 Record: 46-28-8 (100 points)

2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Defeated St. Louis Blues 4-2 in Western Conference First Round; Lost to Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 in second round.

Key addition: D Mike Reilly

Key subtractions: D Keith Ballard, F Sean Bergenheim, C Kyle Brodziak, F Matt Cooke, D Jordan Leopold, F Chris Stewart

The Wild penalty kill was the best in the NHL last season (86.3 percent), but their power play was 27th (15.8 percent).

They believe they have the personnel to have success on the power play. Parise scored 11 goals with the man-advantage last season, and Vanek's 118 power-play goals are second in the NHL since he entered the League in 2005-06.

If Scandella and Dumba see increased time on the power play, the Wild might very well see an uptick in their production with the extra attacker.

"There's a lot of things [we can do better]," Parise said. "We'll work through them internally. There's a lot of things that can and need to be different and can be better. We'll get there."

The Wild have also made a couple of structural adjustments on the power play. Pominville, who spent much of last season on the point, has been moved down low. The set-up has also been shifted from the right side to the left, which should benefit Granlund, who is a lefty.

The early results have been positive: Playing with its top power-play unit intact, Minnesota scored twice with the man-advantage in the preseason opener against the Buffalo Sabres on Sept. 21.

The Wild have reached the playoffs three times in Yeo's four seasons as coach, including the second round in each of the past two despite a midseason slump that threatened their playoff chances. Each time, Yeo has managed to turn things around.

Yeo may have done his best work last season. The Wild overcame a number of external factors: The mumps, which ravaged their defense for the better part of a month; injuries to key players; and the death of Suter's father, Bob, in September and Parise's, J.P., in January.

With the Wild among the worst teams in the Western Conference in mid-January, Dubnyk and a little bit of normalcy over the final two-and-a-half months of the regular season helped them make the playoffs as the first wild card.

"There's a lot of things that happened last year," Parise said. "We were playing shorthanded for a long time. We had an OK start, but then we fell off and it was hard for us to get back into it. You don't want to put yourself in that hole, it's not ideal, but we were able to get ourselves out of it."

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