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2015-16 Wild Season Preview: Forwards

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

With the Minnesota Wild's 2015-16 season beginning on Thursday with a game against the Avalanche in Colorado, is breaking down different elements of the team entering the season.

Led by left-wing Zach Parise, the Wild is returning 12 forwards who skated in at least 25 games in 2014-15, 11 who played in at least 50, and eight who played in at least 70.

"There is that familiarity between the players, and there has to be that challenging each other internally to play better as a group," Parise said. "A healthy challenge, and holding each guy accountable to play better, and have good years."

Parise who led the team in goals last season (33), played the majority of his even-strength minutes with center Mikael Granlund and right wing Jason Pominville, a line that remained intact during training camp.

Other consistent lines during camp included left wing Jason Zucker with center Mikko and right wing Nino Niederreiter; left wing Thomas Vanek with center Charlie Coyle and right wing Justin Fontaine; and left wing Ryan Carter with center Erik Haula and right wing Chris Porter.

Injuries shuffled Minnesota's bottom-six. With Fontaine going on injured-reserve, rookie Tyler Graovac slid in to center Vanek, with Coyle moving back to the wing.

Head Coach Mike Yeo had originally pegged Coyle to start the season at center, but said Coyle's flexibility will be a major asset to the team and is a credit to Coyle's ability as a player.

However the Wild's lines begin the season, there will be a lot of continuity among its forward group.

"Even if you haven't played with them a lot, just knowing them, and playing with them for a year, you have a sense of knowing who they are, and what they're about, and how they play," Zucker said. "You may not have ever played with a guy but you were playing on the same team for a year so you know how he works, and what he does well, and that's always huge."

Limited by injury, Zucker played only 51 games last season, but still managed 21 goals, tied for third on the team with Vanek.

At even-strength, Zucker and Parise each scored 17 goals, tied for the team lead. Zucker was one of the most efficient 5-on-5 goal scorers in the NHL in 2014-15, second in the League among those who played at least 500 minutes with 1.59 Goals/60 minutes (g/60), a rate-statistic that measure how frequently skaters score at even-strength given the minutes they play.

"It was a good year for me to come out and score some goals, and try to take my game to the next level," said Zucker, who only trailed Rick Nash of the New York Rangers (1.73) in g/60 last season. " … Overall, it was a good year for me, and I need to build off that. Come in with the same mindset, and work hard and be the best player I can be."

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