ST. PAUL -- With its solid play and the announcement earlier this week of three representatives at the NHL All-Star Game later this month, the Minnesota Wild's strong start to the season has started to capture the attention of a national audience.
If it hasn't already, it will by the end of the weekend.
After its game against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday aired on NBC Sports Network, Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens and Sunday's against the Chicago Blackhawks will also be seen by a nationwide audience.
The men who broadcasted the Wild's win over the Ducks, play-by-play man Kenny Albert and color analyst Pierre McGuire, came away impressed.
"They're a team that's for real," McGuire said. "They've got an elite goaltender in Devan Dubnyk. They've got a defenseman in Ryan Suter that's probably gonna be a Norris Trophy candidate. They've got quick-strike offensive capability from a lot of different sources. They've got Zach Parise back on track. There's a lot of things going on there that are extremely positive."
One of the things both men agreed upon was the emergence of center Eric Staal, who is tied for the team lead with 13 goals and leads the club in both assists (22) and points (35).
With Staal playing on the level he is, it allows Mikael Granlund to move to his more natural wing position, where he thrived during the postseason last spring. It also pushes Mikko Koivu down the lineup and allows him to flourish in the two-way role that fits his game best.
"I think last year was a different type of year for him," said Albert, who's also the radio voice of the New York Rangers and saw Staal after he was dealt to New York near the trade deadline. "Getting traded for the first time and going to a new organization, even though his brother was there, it was just so much different from the norm for him after being in Carolina for so long.
"I thought he played pretty well [in New York]. He didn't score many goals, didn't put up the points that maybe some people expected. He moved back and forth between center and the wing. But I've always been a big Eric Staal fan, and I'm happy to see him having the success he's had this year with the Wild."
Albert also lauded the personality of Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, which he said has been a factor in turnarounds in previous stops in both Washington and Anaheim, and now here.
"He definitely does not take himself too seriously, and I think that's rubbed off on the players," Albert said. "I think it keeps the atmosphere somewhat loose."
During Sunday's broadcast, both announcers noted the impact of assistant coach Scott Stevens, whom Boudreau hired a month after getting the job in Minnesota.
"You can see the stick positioning, the body positioning, that's all from Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson," McGuire said. "People in Minnesota will appreciate the name Jacques Lemaire and Scott Stevens won Stanley Cups for him. I think Scott has brought a lot of ability to teach and he brings instantaneous street cred when he goes in the dressing room or on the ice with the players."
The next challenge for the Wild will be continuing the current hot start into a consistent finish down the stretch, one that doesn't see the midseason struggles of years past.
The way McGuire sees it, the way the Wild is playing right now is sustainable.
"There's a resolve there that I haven't seen in previous years," McGuire said. "I see a more determined group, a stick-to-itiveness to their game plan. I see more urgency from them and more of a desire to be together as a group, to win as a group."