Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Inside look at Minnesota Wild

Jason Zucker was happy the Minnesota Wild kept their core together for another run at the Stanley Cup.
The 26-year-old forward knew changes were possible after Paul Fenton was hired as general manager May 21, replacing Chuck Fletcher.
Instead, every key player was retained and Zucker and defenseman Matt Dumba each signed a five-year contract.
"It really shows that [Fenton] believes in this group," Zucker said. "For a new guy to come in and still feel that way is a huge confidence boost."
Fenton, who joined the Wild after 19 seasons with the Central Division rival Nashville Predators, knew what he was inheriting.
"They've made the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs for six straight years," Fenton said. "What's the reason to make a change just to make a change? There's isn't one."
However, the Wild last won a playoff series in 2015, and lost to the Winnipeg Jets in five games in the Western Conference First Round last season.
"We're not satisfied with just making the playoffs anymore," Zucker said. "We expect that of ourselves. Now we need to take that next step."
To help them get there, four veteran free agents were added: forwards Matt Hendricks, J.T. Brown and Eric Fehr, and defenseman Greg Pateryn.
"We wanted to add some character, some sandpaper to our fourth line. … guys who will bring more attitude to our lineup," Fenton said. 
Better seasons from forwards Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter would help. Coyle missed a month with a broken right leg and had 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 66 games last season, down from 56 points (18 goals, 38 assists) in 2016-17. Niederreiter scored 18 goals last season after averaging 23 the previous three seasons.
"Doesn't seem like Nino had an ideal year and Charlie certainly has the potential to score a lot more, to be able to put more points on the board, to play with a power forward-type of atmosphere every night," Fenton said. "For me, those two are going to be critical points of the success we have here."
Minnesota also hopes for healthy seasons for forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. 
Parise, 34, missed the first three months of last season recovering from back surgery, and broke his sternum during Game 3 against the Jets. He was playing well between the two injuries, with 12 goals in his final 18 regular-season games and one goal in each of his three playoff games. 
"I've skated with him quite a bit [during the offseason] and he looks great," Zucker said.
Suter, 33, broke his right ankle during a game March 31 and told the Wild website he's hoping to be healthy by the start of training camp.
"When people say, 'You probably won't be ready for camp,' that just makes me angry," he said. "I might not be, but I'm sure as heck going to try as hard as I can. The way I feel right now, I feel like I'm going to be ready for camp."
Suter tied his NHL career high with 51 points (six goals, 45 assists) last season, and led Minnesota with an average ice time of 26:47 per game. It was the seventh straight season he has averaged at least 26:00 per game.
"He's just such a fluid, smooth, smart player that he efficiently plays the game and that plays into his ability to take on that many minutes," Fenton said.
Suter and a healthy Jared Spurgeon, who injured his hamstring March 13 and missed the rest of the season, join Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Pateryn on a deep group of defensemen.
"One of the strengths of this team is the defense," Fenton said. "You look at it, it's as good as anybody in the League if we start to go on all cylinders."
With the talented core staying intact and the toughness added during the offseason, Zucker is confident the Wild have enough to advance in the postseason.
"We're a good team and we know it," he said. "We feel that and the better that [forward Mikael] Granlund and Coyle and myself and Niederreiter and Dumba and Spurgeon and Brodin, the more we get better, the more years we're playing here, the better off we're all going to be. We know what we're going to get from [center Eric] Staal, we know what we're going to get from [center Mikko] Koivu and Parise and Suter … so we need to make sure that us as younger guys are stepping up and pulling more weight every year. If we do that, we're going to keep getting better as a team."

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