The 2022-2023 NHL season is finally upon us, and that means rosters are being finalized as teams get ready to start their seasons. Over the next three days, I will be breaking down the Wild roster to begin the season, broken into three articles (forwards, defensemen, and goalies), starting with the forwards.
1st Line (Kaprizov-Hartman-Zuccarello)
The Wild have a deep and versatile group of forwards, and it is a group that can contribute from all four lines. The depth of this year’s forward group is what excites me the most about this team. It all starts with the first line, which will be the same as last year, Kirill Kaprizov–Ryan Hartman–Mats Zuccarello). This combo combined for 252 points last season, and are expected to maintain the same level of production, if not surpass it this season.
We have seen some plays this preseason that indicate that the chemistry between Kaprizov and Zuccarello has somehow gotten stronger. Kaprizov and Zuccarello are the most talked about in the general media with the Wild and this first line, but Hartman was a key (if not the most) important part of this line last year, and will continue to play a huge role in the success of this line. Hartman broke out last season with career highs in goals, assists, and points. Hartman played in all 82 games (!!!) last season, and tallied 34 goals, 31 assists for 65 points. Hartman is the glue that holds this line together, look for him to have another career season this year between Kaprizov and Zuccarello.
Ranked as the 5th highest line in xGF last season (according to Money Puck), this line is one of the best in the league. I do not expect any regression with this line, in fact I expect the opposite. Expect for this first line to exceed their point total from last season, and solidify themselves as a top three line in the NHL.
2nd Line (Jost-Eriksson Ek-Foligno)
The second line has a new left winger (at least to start the season) in Tyson Jost, replacing Jordan Greenway who is currently recovering from off-season surgery. Although Greenway is expected back within the first two weeks of the season, I do not see him re-joining this second line. That is how good Tyson Jost has looked this preseason. The former No. 10 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft never got things going in four and a half years with the Colorado Avalanche. After being traded to the Wild near the deadline last year, Jost played in 21 games for the Wild, tallying just two goals and four assists. While not mind boggling numbers, Jost showed flashes of the skill and scoring ability that got him drafted so early. Jost mentally and physically regrouped this offseason, and came back a more complete version of the player he has the potential to be. Jost has looked fantastic this preseason, tallying three goals and four assists in five games. Jost isn’t afraid to mix it up and play physical, but is now adding a consistent ability to find the back of the net and get involved in the offense. If what we saw this preseason from Jost is any indication of what to expect this season, Jost is going to turn a lot of heads around the league.
As for the two returning members of the second line, you can expect Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno to play with the same level of grit and skill, and have solid campaigns this season. Both Eriksson Ek and Foligno tallied career highs in points last season (49 and 42 respectively) while being part of the GREEF line (Greenway-Eriksson Ek-Foligno). Coach Dean Evason often used this line against the opposing top line, and they were a stone cold shutdown line. What made this line different from most shut down lines is that they produced offensively at a high rate as well. They ranked 16th in the league in xGF (according to Money Puck). Replacing Greenway with Jost only improves the offensive potential of this second line, watch out for this line to be productive on both sides of the puck.
3rd Line (Gaudreau-Steel-Boldy)
The third line has some shakeup from last season, and is missing a big component (Kevin Fiala). Due to cap restrictions, the Wild were not going to be able to sign Fiala to an extension long-term, and were forced to trade him. The Wild ended up trading Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings, and got defenseman prospect Brock Faber and a first round pick (No. 19 in 2022 NHL Draft, which turned into Liam Ohgren) in return. This was a fairly good haul considering other teams knew that the Wild had no option but to trade Fiala.
In Fiala’s absence, Frederick Gaudreau moves to the wing, and Sam Steel (signed this offseason 1x$.825m) fills in at center. Gaudreau had by far his most productive season in the NHL, setting his career high in goals, assists, and points (14-30-44). Gaudreau signed a two-year, $2.4m deal last offseason, and the Wild could not have asked for a much better return on investment. While Fiala and Matt Boldy proved to be perfect partners for each other, Gaudreau was the steady rock that held this line together and provided stability. Now, after the move to wing, we can expect to see a little more offense out of Gaudreau.
Sam Steel was an offseason addition (and a cheap one at that) for the Wild that is proving to be one of the best moves of the summer for GM Bill Guerin. Steel (23 years old), was drafted No. 30 overall in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks. Similar to Tyson Jost, Steel never really lived up to the potential in Anaheim, and struggled to produce at a high level. The Wild hope a change of scenery will jump start his development back into motion. I would expect Steel to play more of the physical checker role for the third line, but the fact he is still only 23 years old, there may be time for the Wild to revamp his development as a scorer, which he did a lot of in junior hockey. I am very interested to see how Steel is used this season.
Matt Boldy had a fantastic rookie season, and if it were not for his ankle injury at the beginning of the season, Boldy would have been a favorite for the Calder Trophy. Boldy is an all-around great winger that we are only seeing the beginning of what he can become. If Boldy can stay healthy all season, expect him to be near the top of Wild points scorers by the end of the season.
4th Line (Dewar-Rossi-Duhaime)
Finally, but certainly not least, at probably the line I am most excited to watch is the fourth line of Connor Dewar–Marco Rossi–Brandon Duhaime. The fourth line is an all around combo of physicality, defense, and offense, with each member contributing some different attributes to the line. Starting with Connor Dewar, who is a fantastic penalty killer, and shows great hustle and can finish around the net. What makes Dewar so good in his role is his work ethic and motor, he makes up for his lack of size with an effort level about as high as I have ever seen. Brandon Duhaime is a great forechecker, with offensive upside that catch most opposing teams off guard. He is big, fast, and hard-hitting, and pairs great with a guy like Dewar.
Now for one of the most exciting prospects I can remember in Minnesota Wild history, Marco Rossi. Former No. 9 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Rossi is primed to play a full NHL season for the Wild, after battling through some scary COVID-19 complications a little over a year ago. Rossi worked hard all summer long to make sure he made the team this year, and he left no option to Bill Guerin but to give Rossi a spot on the team. Rossi led the NHL in preseason points with nine in six games. Rossi has incredible hockey IQ, is a fantastic playmaker, and knows how to handle his defensive responsibilities as a center. Rossi has all the potential in the world to become a No. 1 center for the Wild in the future, and I’m excited to see him get a full season of work this season.
The Minnesota Wild have a very deep and exciting forward group heading into this season. I expect there to be production from all four lines, and that Dean Evason can trust to put any line out in just about any situation.