For the final piece of this three-part series, we’ll be looking at which players are in limbo of staying around for the Minnesota’s Wild inevitable rebuild. After laying out who should stay and who should go, there’s a collection of players who are stuck in the middle.
Who’s in limbo: Gerald Mayhew, Nick Seeler, Carson Soucy, Kevin Fiala, Brad Hunt and Ryan Donato
Mayhew (27), Seeler (26), Soucy (25), Fiala (23), Hunt (31), Donato (24)
Average age: 26
Note: Ages are where they’ll be at the end of the season.
Typically if you are a rebuilding team, you like to keep players whose average age is in their mid-20’s or younger. These players generally still have ceilings that are worth exploring and should be given the remainder of the season to dictate whether or not they’ll be in the long-term plans.
Mayhew is probably the most deserving of an opportunity in a top-sox role. He’s excelled at the AHL level, scoring 60 points (27 goals and 33 assists) last season, including an impressive playoff performance where he scored nine goals in 11 postseason games. Minnesota called him up earlier this season and played in six games, scoring two goals but was sent back to Iowa and once again is dominating the minors with nine points (six goals and four assists) in seven games. Even though there’s a surplus of young players on this roster needing to take the next step, the Wild need to figure out if Mayhew’s scoring ability can translate from the minors because he’s pretty much accomplished all there is at the AHL level.
At six-feet, 200 pounds, Seeler is a big body who played in 71 games last season. He’s got a mean streak in him and isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. Despite a lot of playing time last season, Seeler has dressed just three times in 14 games, with Carson Soucy rounding out the final defensive pairing with Brad Hunt. If the Wild weren’t so deep at their blue line, Seeler would likely find more playing time but he’s been caught in a logjam. From the long view it makes more sense to play him than the veteran Hunt.
Speaking of Soucy, he’s played in 12 games with the Wild this season after playing in 136 games in Iowa since 2017. He’s a year younger than Seeler, but similar in size at six-feet and 215 pounds and clearly Bruce Boudreau has liked what he brings to the team more than Seeler does. Obviously neither Soucy or Seeler are going to be a top-pairing defenseman but if the Wild were to trade Jonas Brodin, one of them would probably have the opportunity to jump into the top four. Plus, other prospects like Brennan Menell and Louie Belpedio (22 and 23 respectively) are knocking on the door in the minors and should be cracking at the lineup by next season. So maybe both players are just placeholders for the up-and-coming defensemen.
Fiala is in such an intriguing position. He was acquired from the Nashville Predators in exchange for Mikael Granlund and has a 20-goal season under his belt from the 2016-17 season. He suffered a gruesome leg injury that postseason, where he was stretched off the ice and he might still be feeling the affects of said injury years later. Fiala had a rough debut in Minnesota after being acquired, scoring just three goals and was minus-12 in 19 games last spring. Then there was a contract issue where the restricted-free agent didn’t ink a deal until late into training camp this season and his game continued to be lackluster. Boudreau even scratched the 23-year-old on Oct. 15 after being fed up with his performance. Even though he found his way back into the lineup, he didn’t score his first goal until the ninth game of the season. The former first-round pick has shown glimpses with his shot and playmaking, but he far too often turns the puck over or makes misguided plays that frustrate his head coach. The Wild’s brass certainly would like to give him a long leash to be successful but maybe Fiala’s injury and the fact he played on a deep Nashville team were overlooked factors and he just isn’t a top-line player. They should play him big minutes this year in order to find out.
When Donato came over from the Boston Bruins for Charlie Coyle, he made an instant impact, putting up 16 points (Four goals and 12 assists) in 22 games with a shoot-first mentality. He did finish the year quiet with just one point in last seven games but he left a solid impression. After being given top-six opportunities in the earlier part of the season, Donato found himself to be a healthy scratch multiple times this season and is now playing on the fourth line. Over his past seven games, Donato is averaging just 9:09 of ice time a game and scored his first goal of the year on Thursday. Maybe his early success last season was just a flash in the pan, but he has an impressive shot and it could be detrimental to give up on someone who has a shoot-first attitude on a team that’s already passive.
Who would’ve thought that the Wild’s third-pairing defenseman Brad Hunt would be one of the team’s leading scorers through the first 15 games. Acquired from the Las Vegas Golden Knights last season, Hunt has a hell of a shot and is a power-play specialist. At first glance, it would make sense to keep him around but when you factor he’s 31-years-old and the majority of his value coming from the man advantage, he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. Also, teams are always looking for power play assistance at the trade deadline. Meaning, Hunt could bring something back whether it’s a draft pick or a player in return. So the Wild should be selling high on the blue liner in February.
The asterisks: Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mats Zucarrello
Parise (35), Suter (35), Zucarrelo (32)
Average age: 34
Finally, the Wild have three players taking up a bulk of their salary cap in Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Mats Zuccarello. The three take up $21 million (or 26%) of the team’s $79 million salary cap and have full no-movement clauses. Trading Parise and Suter might be impossible due to the fact they’re still on the books until their age 40-years-old but if things continue to go south, it’s possible Zuccarello ends up waiving his clause to go somewhere else. You’d still have to find a team to take on his $6 million cap hit through 2024, but it’s more achievable than parting with Parise or Suter.
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— Declan Goff (@DexsTweets) October 3, 2019