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Season in Review: Five Highlights from 2016-17

Wild.com looks back on record-breaking inaugural season under Bruce Boudreau

by Dan Myers and Devin Lowe / Wild.com

Wild Looks Back On Season

Wild Looks Back On Season

Wild players Suter, Staal, Parise, Dubnyk, and General Manager Chuck Fletcher look back on a record-breaking season amidst playoff heartbreak

  • 02:18 •

ST. PAUL -- After a first-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Minnesota Wild wasn't yet ready to reflect on its achievements during the 2016-17 season when it held its end-of-season media availability on Tuesday, April 25.

But there were plenty: In its first season under Bruce Boudreau, the Wild set franchise records in wins and points. Several of its younger players had career years and began to assume leadership roles. Eric Staal, the 32-year-old veteran centerman whom the Wild signed last summer after he netted just six points in 20 games with the New York Rangers in 2016, had his best offensive season in five years. 

As Minnesota transitions into what is sure to be a long offseason, Wild.com has selected five standout storylines from this year. Here are the highlights of 2016-17:

1. Statistically speaking, the Wild had its best regular season in franchise history.

The season didn't end the way the Wild wanted it to, but there's no denying the improvements the club made over the course of 82 games.

Minnesota won 49 games for the first time in franchise history, topping the 48 victories the Wild had back in 2007-08. Those 49 wins, combined with eight overtime losses, gave the team a franchise-record 106 points by the year's end.

It was a vast improvement -- an almost 22 percent seaon-over-season increase, to be exact -- over the 87 points the Wild mustered last year as it snuck into the postseason.

Part of what allowed the Wild to garner over 100 points was its resiliency in response to losses. Minnesota went 19-9-4 in games following a loss of any kind. Take out a bumpy March, and that record becomes 15-3-2. The Wild went nearly four months without posting back-to-back regulation losses.

Minnesota also set franchise records in power-play percentage (21 percent) and goals for (266), and it scored at least four goals in 41.5 percent of its contests.

"People don't want to hear about the regular season, but it's still an 82-game picture," said Chuck Fletcher, the Wild's general manager. "That's six months of hockey where we were in the top ten in goals against, goals for, power play, penalty kill, home record, road record. Again, four months without consecutive regulation losses. We were a remarkably consistent team."

2. Minnesota went on a 12-game winning streak that ended with a historic showdown.

Starting with a 2-1 overtime win in Edmonton on Dec. 4, the Wild dispatched 12 opponents in the month of December to set multiple franchise records, chief among them the record for the club's longest ever winning streak.

The other records broken included:

  • Longest point streak (the Wild went 12-0-1 in 13 games from Dec. 2-29, good for 25 points)
  • Most wins in a calendar month
  • Longest individual winning streak by a goalie (Devan Dubnyk won all 10 games he played from Dec. 4-29)
  • Longest individual point streak by a goalie in a single season (Dubnyk helped the Wild secure points in 14 straight games from Nov. 23-Dec. 29)

The Wild also tied its record for its longest home winning streak at eight games.

On Dec. 31, Minnesota matched up with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were riding a 14-game win streak of their own. It marked the first time in the history of the four major North American sports leagues -- the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL -- that two teams with winning streaks of 12 games or longer faced each other in a contest.

Columbus won the New Year's Eve showdown by a score of 4-2 and went on to win two more games before its streak was snapped at 16.

3. The Wild's young core continued to grow as many of its members set new personal offensive records.

For years, Wild brass has been hoping for its young core to take the next step. 

In 2016-17, it all came together.

Among the players who had career years offensively were Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba. All five players are 25 years old or younger and should just be coming into the primes of their careers.

Granlund led the Wild with 69 points and was second in goals with 26. He is a finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, combining elite production with gentlemanly play (he took just six minor penalties in 81 games played this season).

"I felt good throughout the whole season. It was fun to play with us winning a lot. It was a good season," Granlund said. "I think we took a step in the right direction. [My goal is to] get ready for the next season and try to get even better."  

Niederreiter reached 25 goals for the first time in his career and also dished out 32 assists. His 57 points were 14 more than last season and 20 more than the year before that. Next season will be his age-25 season, and the Swiss-born Niederreiter appears to be trending in the right direction.

For the first time since 2011-12, when he played in just six games, Zucker had more assists than goals. In his breakout campaign two years ago, when Zucker was among the NHL leaders in goals per game, he scored 21 goals and had just five assists. After a disappointing season a year ago, Zucker rebounded to score 22 goals and add 25 assists in 79 games this year.

Coyle's 38 assists and 56 points were far and away career bests, as the power forward played in all 82 games for the third-straight season. His plus-13 tied a career high as well.

Brodin had 22 assists among 25 points and found himself playing the point on the power play consistently for the first time in his NHL career.

Dumba reached double digits in goals (11) for the second-straight season and had a career high 34 points to go with a plus-15.  

"Go back a year ago and the questions then," Fletcher said. "I remember sitting in this room … and the question was is Granlund ever going to become a player, was Jason Zucker ever going to become a player?

"We didn't (meet expectations). We lost in the first round. Twenty-nine of 30 teams are not going to reach their goal this year. That's the nature of the game. But you've got to look at the big picture."

4. Eric Staal made a massive impact -- and proved plenty of people wrong.

Perhaps the biggest bargain in all of free agency, Staal had his best season in five years.

Badly in need of a center after a first-round exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars last season, the Wild bought out the final year of Thomas Vanek's three-year contract and used the money to sign Staal and Chris Stewart.

Coming off arguably the worst season of his career, some in the hockey world insisted that Staal, a veteran of 12 NHL seasons, didn't have anything left.

He went about proving the critics wrong by posting a team high 28 goals (his most since he scored 33 in 2010-11) and finishing behind only Granlund with 65 points (the most since he had 70 in 2011-12).

Staal's plus-17 was the best mark of his career.

"I'd be lying to you if I didn't say it felt good to maybe stick it to some people that didn't think I could play still a little bit," Staal said. "I came here expecting to play on a good team, came here expecting to play with some great players and be given an opportunity, and I was able to do that and contribute."

Staal, a former captain with the Carolina Hurricanes, was also a trusted leader inside the Wild dressing room. 

"I think Eric Staal probably produced more than most people would've anticipated and certainly had a major impact on the hockey club," Fletcher said.

5. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau implemented systems that suited the Wild's speed and skill.

When Boudreau became available after his dismissal as coach of the Anaheim Ducks last May, he immediately rocketed to the top of wish lists for teams in search of a new bench boss.

It was no different for Minnesota, which was in search of its fourth full-time head coach in franchise history.

As one of the winningest coaches of all time, Boudreau wasted no time making the Wild into contenders. After a regular season in which it secured 87 points in 2015-16, the Wild's 106-point 2016-17 campaign was one of the biggest improvements in the League from last year.

"You can't argue with how things went. He did a great job with us as far as systems-wise," said Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. "You look at the offense we were able to produce, and one thing I said all year, he was very good at making sure we were prepared for every single game, regardless of whether we'd won the last 10 or if we'd lost one or lost two. That next game was the most important game of the year."

With a year of experience working with the Wild's core, the hope is that next season can bring bigger and better things for Minnesota as both Boudreau and the franchise seeks its first Stanley Cup.

"We just didn't get the job done [this season]," Boudreau said. "There's not a guy on the team that is happy with the outcome, and they're all kicking themselves a little bit as much as the coaches are kicking themselves. We'd like another crack at it as soon as possible."

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