The Minnesota Wild will complete their 2022-23 regular season tonight with Game #82 in Nashville. With a 46-25-10 record, the Wild have a lock on third place in the Central Division. Tonight’s game is effectively meaningless, as the Dallas Stars are currently four points ahead of Minnesota and the Colorado Avalanche are three points ahead. The only question to be answered yet this week is who they will face in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The answer to that will be either Dallas or Colorado. Two division rivals of Minnesota – either one would be an entertaining series. My guess is that it will be the Wild facing Colorado. Regardless of who they face, as the number three seed in the Central, the Wild will begin the playoffs on the road.
Giving a lot of his top guys a rest, Wild Head Coach, Dean Evason will have Brock Faber who played for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the recent NCAA Championship Game and made his NHL debut earlier this week in the lineup, as well as Nick Swaney, who will be making his NHL debut after winning two NCAA championships with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs during his collegiate career. Ryan Hartman was given tonight off by the NHL for his thunderous hit on Nikolaj Ehlers during a Wild loss at the X on Tuesday night against Winnipeg. The play resulted in an interference and roughing penalty against Hartman.
The Wild have Kirill Kaprizov back after he missed 15 games due to a lower-body injury. However, center Joel Eriksson Ek remains out after taking a slap shot to the lower leg against the Pittsburg Penguins. Perhaps one of the biggest concerns for the Wild heading into the playoffs, aside from player health, is winning faceoffs. Ek was, by far, the leading faceoff guy for the Wild this year – almost 400 more faceoffs than second-place Frederick Gaudreau. One does not have to be a hockey genius to know that one faceoff win can make the difference in a game, particularly in the playoffs.
Another thing the Wild will miss from Eriksson Ek is his point production. He was fourth in points on the team and one of four 60-point scorers for the team. That hurts. If there is anything that the Wild can hang their hat on this season however, it’s never giving up or getting down when dealt with a loss. While Kaprizov was recovering from his injury, Matt Boldy went on an absolute tear scoring 14 goals, 7 assists and a plus/minus of +12. He also tallied two hat tricks in a span of eight days. Talk about stepping up when he was needed. Having a fully-rested Kaprizov beginning the playoffs will be nightmare-inducing for opposing teams.
Last year’s Wild squad had awesome depth, top to bottom. This year, they struggled a bit at times. Yes, they still have two more years of severe salary cap penalties for releasing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. That sucks. The silver lining in that, is the Wild have an incredible corps of young players in Iowa whose development has accelerated as a result. Already one of the best group of youngsters in the league, the Iowa club have stars such as Sammy Walker, Nic Petan, Marco Rossi, Brock Faber, Nick Swaney, Steven Fogarty, Joe Hicketts, Adam Beckman and more spend time in St. Paul this season. Are they superstars yet? Not so much, but getting the small tastes of the big leagues will only motivate them to push themselves and stay an extra five minutes on the ice everyday to get back there. In two or three years, the Wild will be scary good.
Until then, we have one more game and then the real season begins. Go Wild!!!