Today marks the start of a new weekly feature where every Sunday a group of Wild fans discuss what's going on with the Minnesota Wild. Today's question is "At the halfway point, what is the biggest surprise from the Wild this season?"
There are a few choices like Patrick O'Sullivan finally playing for the team who drafted him or the lackluster play of Mikko Koivu's line, but the biggest surprise to me this season has been Brent Burns' play. While he has shown glimmers of being an elite talent in the past, something has always gotten in the way. That has not been the case this season and Burns has spent most of the season leading the Wild in goals scored and being second in the league for defensemen. On top of that, he has been slowly becoming the go-to-guy shutting down opposing stars and being everywhere at once. Burns has proven himself to be Minnesota's all-star representative despite being left off the ballot and I'm looking forward to seeing him help out the Wild in the second half.
Easily the biggest surprise has been Bouchard coming back and not really missing a beat statwise. One of the biggest concerns fans, and I'm sure the front office, was 1) would he ever come back from the PCS and/or 2) would he even be able to stay competitive at the NHL level after missing a full season of hockey and not even able to condition himself. Bouchard has continued to help out Havlat much better than Latendresse was able to do because they both have great speed, vision, and puck skills which make it easier for either one of them to bring the puck through the neutral zone while maintaining possession. This was a critical area of concern after last year as it appeared no one could do it.
The Speckled Kiwi:
I think the biggest surprise from the Wild this season is the relative stability in the organization. Outside of bringing in O'Sullivan, which was needed, Fletcher hasn't made any gut check moves like last year.
Did he learn to be patient and evaluate?
Fletcher is a smart man and we can only hope that he learned from past trades. Some fans are probably disgruntled there hasn't been a lot of moves made by the Wild, other than some call ups, but they have a good group of players. Old, but good. It's a welcoming change of pace to actually take time to evaluate, to see where the organization is going and how they face adversity when things happen.
We've had a lot of injuries. We've had some guys simply not play to the best of their abilities. But we've been relatively quiet on the trade and movement front and I think that's good for the organization is to take a slow and steady approach. There has been some rumors dangling out there but nothing has come to fruition. Now, we know that the trade deadline is going to be a busy time, so it'll be interesting to see how Fletcher evaluates the roster at the time but I got to give Fletcher a lot of credit for not panicking and making irrational moves.
I expected Burns to be back up to spec so I cannot say that he is surprising me all that much. On paper, this roster actually looked promising. More promising than I let on at the start of the pre-season.
I know they are always unexpected, but the biggest surprise for me would be the mass of injuries. I didn't expect Harding to go down, as I figured this would be a showcase year for him. I didn't expect Latendresse to go down. I also didn't expect Bouchard to come back as soon as he did. Now Zidlicky? Serious WTF season, but no one is talking about it...
The fact that the team is still scrambling for their post season lives without their leading scorer (again) is surprising. Fletcher has been doing a good cap management job, considering that not a single player is on LTIR and we are still under the cap enough to juggle the spare defensemen. Hell, he went out and signed a starting goalie for just a little more than Harding gets paid and is still under the cap.
Another surprise? I've dropped the Richards hate. They say apathy is worse than hate, but I've hit the point where my passionate rants are gone and I just shrug every time he does something dumb.
Ask us this again in April... My response will be that we squeeked into 8th. How would that kick in the Vancouver sack feel? They get top seed only to face us in the first round. Luongo-sieve much against the Wild? LOL They need to be thankful Schneider is a rock star against the Wild...
Nearing the halfway point, not much about this Minnesota Wild team is really all that shocking. Going into the year many saw the short comings with the current construction of the team. We knew we'd get the inconsistent efforts on a game by game basis.
With that said, the regularity that Cal Clutterbuck is finding the back of the net is a bit of a pleasant surprise. He has matched his career high and is well on his way to what may very well be a 20+ goal season. Considering the other elements to Cal's game, it's a welcome sight for a Wild squad that will struggle to score. If Clutterbuck can continue to contribute this type of game year in, year out while Chuck Fletcher adds more talent to build around up front; it will go a long way towards icing a team with viable threats up and down the line-up. That is something we Wild fans really haven't been treated to in this team's existence.
The return of the trap. When Fletcher and Richards were hired, we were told that the team would open up the offense, activate the defense, and see an aggressive forecheck. At times that has been true, but with the lack of talent up front, the team's offense sputtered and defense fell apart. I'm not sure if Richards is adjusting and maturing or if new assistant coach Rick Wilson has a bigger say, but the team has frequently gone into a 1-2-2 to slow down the opposition and to hold a lead, and it seems to be working to some extent.
The blueline collective as a whole is the biggest revelation to me. We knew how touted Rick Wilson was as a respected as an assistant coach and a teacher of defensemen, but this group of eight (by my count) have been very good in comparison to last year.
-Brent Burns leads the team in goals but is excelling when it comes to matching up with the stars of the NHL; Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jarome Iginla, etc.
-Marek Zidlicky was playing his best hockey in a Wild sweater before his injury.
-Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon have settled into their respective matchup roles, with Schultz continuing to chip in offensively.
-Maybe the most pleasant part is the solid play of Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, and Marco Scandella, who have all proven they are worthy of more and more ice time, which at times this year have come at the cost of Cam Barker.