It’s been a stereotypical year for the Minnesota Wild who have teased fans stretches of both stellar and lackluster play.
When they return to the ice in St. Paul on Saturday to host the Boston Bruins, Minnesota will be at least five points out of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and in the basement of the Central Division. It’s going to be an uphill battle to get into the postseason and even if they squeak in, they’d likely be a one-and-done team unless things significantly turn around. That doesn’t mean the Wild won’t be interesting down the stretch. Here are three players to watch from now until the end of the season.
Kunin’s having an underappreciated year in his third season in the NHL. In 49 games, Kunin has 12 goals (all 5v5) and 12 assists. The 22-year old is on pace for a 20-goal campaign, which would be a huge building block for the Wild as they try to turn things around. Only Matt Dumba and Zach Parise have fired more shots on net this season than Kunin. Over his last 19 games, Kunin has 14 points (6 goals and 8 assists).
After opening the season at center, where he’s spent the majority of his career, Kunin has found a home with Joel Erikkson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The trio has started the majority of games as of late and has been tasked with shutting down opposing top lines.
Shortly before the Wild broke for the All-Star game, Boudreau noticed Kunin’s game turning around for good. “He’s got his legs going,” said Boudreau after a January 20 loss to the Florida Panthers. “I noticed a change in his skating, where it was before the (2018) leg injury. Now, it’s coming back to where it was at that point in time.”
If he can continue to play in big spots and perform at a high level, the Wild can feel confident they have a building block in Kunin.
It’s not fair to loop these two players together, but Jordan Greenway’s play of late is reminiscent of Charlie Coyle’s tenure with the Wild. At 6-foot-6, 227-pounds, Greenway is a physical beast on the ice but he’s reluctant to use his size to his advantage. After initially gelling with Ek and Kunin, Greenway has now spent the bulk of his time on the fourth line. He hasn’t played more than 13 minutes since Dec. 23 and over his last 28 games, he has just four goals and 36 shots on net. Of all the young players on the Wild, Ek, Kunin and Kevin Fiala have all taken steps forward. Meanwhile, Greenway and Ryan Donato have yet to take steps forward. It’s too early to just cut bait on a second-round pick and winger who’s 22 years old, but Greenway needs a better showing after a mostly forgettable 48 games.
Let’s put both Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock together as both have had their fair share of ups and downs. Dubnyk has been the Wild’s backbone since being acquired in a franchise-altering trade five years ago but he’s in the midst of his worst season in Minnesota. In 24 games, Dubnyk is 9-12-2 with a 3.28 GAA and a .893 SV%. He’s also been away from the team supporting his family and wife who’s dealing with a health issue.
His backup Alex Stalock has already tied a career high in starts since arriving in State of Hockey in 2016. Stalock has had runs of success but his overall numbers still aren’t ideal going 11-8-3, 2.93 GAA and a .903 SV%. The Wild’s offense (3.14 goals per game) has been streaky but as a whole, its above league average (3.06). If Minnesota wants to go on a run to get into the postseason, they’ll need better goaltending. Kaapo Kahkonen had a nice showing appearing in five games earlier this season and he could be the goaltender of the future. However unless Stalock or Dubnyk are traded or sustain a significant injury, Kahkonen won’t be able to get extended look.
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— Declan Goff (@DexsTweets) October 3, 2019