Thursday, August 16, 2018

Three questions facing Minnesota Wild

1. Can Zach Parise and Ryan Suter stay healthy?
Parise, a 34-year-old forward, and Suter, a 33-year-old defenseman, have been key components for the Wild since signing with them prior to the 2012-13 season, but each had an injury-shortened season in 2017-18.
Parise was out until Jan. 2 recovering from back surgery, and Suter had his season ended by a broken right ankle March 31.
They were in the lineup together for 39 games, when Minnesota went 23-9-7 and outscored its opponents 128-106. In 43 games with one or both out of the lineup, the Wild were 22-17-4 and were outscored 123-122.
"They're very important players to our group," center Eric Staal said. "I'm excited for them both because they both feel that itch to prove some stuff because of injuries and tough moments."
Parise was productive last season, with 12 goals in his final 18 regular-season games and three goals in three Stanley Cup Playoff games before breaking his sternum. Suter averaged more than 26:00 per game for the seventh straight season.
"We need Zach to be at his best," forward Jason Zucker said. "Any time you have a guy like that playing well … we feel we're a pretty hard team to beat. We need him back, we need [Suter] back, both to be healthy, whenever that may be."
2. Can Jordan Greenway sustain his strong late-season play?
Greenway made his NHL debut March 27 and had one assist in six regular-season games and two points (one goal, one assist) in five playoff games. He averaged 14:12 during the postseason, up from 11:27 during the regular season.
Now the 21-year-old forward has to prove himself through an 82-game season.
"He's big (6-foot-6, 226 pounds) and strong, puck protects," general manager Paul Fenton said. "He's got vision, he's got strength to hold people off and make plays under pressure. Hopefully he's going to develop a good scoring touch here at the National Hockey League level."
3. Who will be the backup goaltender?
Devan Dubnyk remains the No. 1 goalie. The candidates to back him up are Alex Stalock, 31, who was 10-10-4 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 28 games last season, and Andrew Hammond, 30, who agreed to terms on a one-year contract July 1.
Hammond played seven NHL games the past two seasons, but he's still remembered for his magical 20-1-2 24-game run with the Ottawa Senators in 2014-15.
Dubnyk, 32, has played at least 60 games in three straight seasons. A more dependable backup would allow him to get more rest during the regular season and perhaps improve on the 2.84 GAA he has had in the playoffs those past three seasons.
"We'll see how [Dubnyk] does throughout the year," Fenton said. "If he needs a rest we feel very comfortable with the two guys that are going to challenge for the backup for him."

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