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2016-17 Preview: Defensemen

Wild will keep eight blueliners to start the season, all capable of cracking the lineup

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

Wild.com takes a look at the defensemen who will begin the 2016-17 season with Minnesota:

Left Defensemen

Ryan Suter

Marco Scandella

Jonas Brodin

Mike Reilly

Analysis: Minnesota's group of left-handers features some of the best skating defensemen in the NHL.

Suter, who finished eighth in Norris Trophy voting last season, should be among the contenders for the award for best defenseman this season. His eight goals tied a career high, while his 43 assists and 51 points were each the highest of his career. He also ran his streak of consecutive plus seasons to seven in a row; in 11 NHL seasons, Suter has finished with a minus rating just one time. He also played in all 82 games for the fifth time in his career and has missed a total of five games in his four seasons in Minnesota -- all in 2014-15. All of that while averaging 28:35 of ice time per game, second highest in the league. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau has said he hopes to reduce that minute load by a few minutes per game to make Suter fresher for the end of the season and the playoffs. With the depth of this group, that shouldn't be a problem.

Last season was a tough one for Scandella, who had a nagging injury on the ice and was forced to deal with the loss of his father, Francesco, to cancer in early December. Despite all of that, he was able to play in 73 games -- the second-most in his career -- and chip in five goals and 16 assists. One of the most tenured players on the roster, the 26-year old is entering his seventh NHL season and could be primed for a bounce back. If Boudreau is able to reduce Suter's minute load, expect Scandella to eat up at least a couple of the extra shifts. 

Brodin, one of the best pure skaters among NHL defensemen, is also looking for a rebound season after scoring two goals and seven points in 68 games. While Brodin will never be an offensive powerhouse from the position, the Swede was on a solid trajectory in that regard as recently as 2013-14, his second season in the eague, when he scored eight goals and 11 assists. A left-handed shot, Brodin is able to play on the right side and often appears more comfortable there. He could see time on the right side, often next to Scandella. 

Reilly simply needs more time. At 23 years old, Reilly's rookie season last year got off to a rocky start. As he played more, he seemed to get more comfortable, however. All of the skills are there for Reilly to be special; he's got the frame to add more size and is already an elite skater and puck mover. If he can find consistent playing time and continue to adjust to the pro game, Reilly could continually force his way into the lineup.

Right Defensemen

Jared Spurgeon

Matt Dumba

Nate Prosser

Christian Folin

Analysis: The strength of Minnesota's right-handed defensemen comes in their ability to skate and jump into the play in the offensive end.

It's hard to believe the Wild were able to acquire Spurgeon for nothing. After not being tendered a contract by the New York Islanders, the team that drafted him in 2008, Spurgeon earned an invitation to camp, signed a contract and played less than half of one season in the AHL before earning the call to the NHL. All he's done since then is get better, culminating in a four-year contract extension last December. Spurgeon lacks elite size but is able to use his speed to always be in the right position and seemingly wiggle out of trouble. His ability to move the puck and jump into the play are elite -- and he's still only 26 years old. His 11 goals and 29 points last season were both career highs, and there is no reason why he couldn't surpass them this year.

The only thing missing from Dumba's game is consistency, but that's to be expected from a 22-year old defenseman entering his fourth NHL season. Dumba played in all but one game a year ago, scoring 10 goals and chipping in 16 assists. Six of those goals came on the power play, where his ability to walk the blue line and his powerful shot come in especially handy. If Dumba can simply find some more consistency, he could be on the verge of a breakout season.

If not for a couple-month stretch in 2014, after Prosser signed a two-way contract with the St. Louis Blues, he would be the most tenured player on the Wild's blueline. The Blues waived Prosser at the end of camp and the Wild claimed him, bringing him back to Minnesota before eventually signing him to a two-year contract extension before last season. A reliable depth defensemen who can play on both the left and right sides, Prosser is a locker-room favorite and important veteran piece.

Locked in a battle with Reilly for a roster spot during camp, Folin played well enough for the Wild to keep him around. To get him to Iowa, the Wild would have had to put Folin on waivers, a chance the organization didn't want to take because of its belief that Folin is on the verge of becoming a very good player. Folin is Minnesota's biggest defensemen and perhaps its most physical. But with a powerful shot, there is still some offensive upside to be tapped into. 

Coach's Corner: "Mobility is the big key. It's as mobile a unit as I've ever seen. Obviously, I'd like to get a little more physical in our own zone, but a lot of times you can't have both. It's a good mobile defense that I think will be able to play an in-your-face kind of game just with the speed they have. That's what our goal is." -- Wild coach Bruce Boudreau on his defensemen

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