30 in 30: Wild youth becoming factor in lineup
The rebuild by the Edmonton Oilers has earned more attention because of that franchise's luck in the NHL Draft lottery, but the Minnesota Wild also have amassed one of the best collections of young talent in the past few seasons.
Despite not picking higher than seventh in the NHL Draft since 2005, the Wild have one of the deepest groups of young, potential impact players in the League.
Minnesota's crew was aided by a huge splash in free agency before last season, and the Wild are coming off a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A couple of those prospects were traded to the Buffalo Sabres to add Jason Pominville before the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline, and a few more could join Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin as full-time members of the Wild this season.
The development of young players allowed Minnesota to let Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen leave during free agency and nab another prospect (and obvious buy-low candidate), Nino Niederreiter, in a trade for Cal Clutterbuck. Minnesota's big free-agent acquisition, Matt Cooke, will help replace some of what Clutterbuck provided. Keith Ballard was added as a potential bounce-back candidate on the blue line.
The Wild might still be a year away from challenging the top teams in the Western Conference, but the future is rapidly becoming the present in the Twin Cities. With better, and younger, depth throughout the roster, another playoff berth this season is not out of the question.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Wild:
NOTES: Something resembling a return to form from Heatley would be a huge boost. Granlund or Coyle could end up being the No. 2 center behind Koivu. The list of kids trying to make the opening-night roster up front is long. Consider Granlund a favorite for a spot, with Zucker, Niederreiter, Brett Bulmer and Zack Phillips potential top-nine forwards.
Suter and Brodin made magic together last season, but the other two pairings need to support them a little better. Tom Gilbert and Justin Faulk were the third pairing for much of the first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, but they're gone now. Mathew Dumba is the wild card; if he is ready and forces his way onto the roster, the Wild will have a surplus at the position.
Backstrom is back with a new contract, and Harding will continue to try to play while dealing with multiple sclerosis. The Wild are loaded with prospects in goal too. Darcy Kuemper and Johan Gustafsson likely will split time in the American Hockey League.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter at: @cmasisak22
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: WILD
Under-valued: Mikko Koivu -- A second season centering Zach Parise (and possibly Jason Pominville) should mean big things for Koivu. He doesn't score a ton of goals, but a stat line of around 20 goals, 45 assists, a plus-5, 50 penalty minutes, 25 power-play points and 220 shots on goal should provide plenty of value.
Over-valued: Dany Heatley -- His best days appear behind him, evidenced by his career-worst 0.58 points-per-game last season. He's still worth drafting as a bench fantasy forward, but we wouldn't expect more than 25 goals and about 50 points.
Sleeper: Jonas Brodin -- At age 20, Brodin has plenty of room to grow, but make no mistake -- this is a star in the making. Expected to be paired again with Ryan Suter on the Wild's top defensive unit, Brodin should develop more offense to his game and could finish with 30-40 points.
Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes