Wild general manager Bill Guerin won’t call it a rebuild. And maybe that is because there’s a chance the Wild will be pretty darn competitive this season.
But Guerin absolutely hit the reset button this past offseason. He opted not to re-sign longtime captain Mikko Koivu, traded No. 1 center Eric Staal, bid adieu to starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk, and flipped promising prospects like Luke Kunin and Ryan Donato.
All designed to give the Wild a facelift as the old guard was getting stale. Will it work? That remains to be seen.
While some core pieces from the previous chapter remain — like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon — and rising stars like Kevin Fiala and Kirill Kaprizov are sure to bring some excitement, there are still lots of question marks heading into this season.
Outside of the blue line, which remains fully intact with Suter, Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin returning, it could take some time for for the rest of the roster to gets used to playing together. Not to mention there’s a new face between the pipes in veteran Cam Talbot.
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on heading into Wild training camp, which begins on Sunday:
1. IS KEVIN FIALA READY TO BE A STAR EVERY NIGHT?
It’s no secret that Fiala took a gigantic leap last season. He finished with 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) and looked every bit like the gamebreaker former general manager Paul Fenton said he could be. The Wild haven’t had someone with this scoring kind of touch since the days of Marian Gaborik in the mid-2000s. But other teams see Fiala’s potential, too, and Fiala became foes’ focus on the ice as the season progressed, and in the qualifying series against the Vancouver Canucks, that started to get the best of him. He took a number of undisciplined penalties against the Canucks and was rather ineffective toward the latter portion of the 3-1 series defeat. That type of attention is something Fiala can expect on a nightly basis this season. Is he ready for that?
Minnesota Wild’s Kevin Fiala (22) checks Vancouver Canucks’ Troy Stecher (51) during third-period NHL hockey game action in Edmonton, Alberta, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
2. HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE KIRILL KAPRIZOV TO ADJUST?
At long last, Kaprizov will wear an official Wild sweater this winter. Honestly, the Jan. 14 season opener against the Los Angeles Kings might as well be a state holiday based on the amount of anticipation leading up to that moment. For the longest time, the Russian sniper was nothing more than an abstract construct that existed solely in the form of breathtaking YouTube highlights. His stats in the KHL spoke for themselves, with at least 30 goals in each of the past two seasons. Many fans are expecting Kaprizov to be a star from the moment he steps foot on the ice for the Wild, and he very well might be. More likely, it’s going to take him some time to adjust. It will be interesting to see who Kaprizov plays alongside in the lineup and how he takes to the game at the next level.
Russia’s Kirill Kaprizov controls the puck during the Channel One Cup ice hockey match between Russia and Czech Republic in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (Alexander Safonov, Championat.com via AP)
3. WILL TOP PROSPECT MARCO ROSSI MAKE THE TEAM?
Similar to Kaprizov, many people already have almost unattainable expectations for first-round draft pick Marco Rossi. He made it clear from the moment the Wild selected him with the No. 9 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft that he wants to be an immediate contributor at the next level. He currently is playing in the World Junior Championship for Team Austria and will report to the Wild training camp as soon as he’s done. From there, Rossi will have a finite amount of time to prove he’s ready for the big stage. If he comes in and make an impact, it’s going to be hard for the Wild to justify sending him back to his pro team in Zurich, Switzerland. If he comes in and struggles, that might make the decision easier.
Team red center Marco Rossi (23) skates during the Kubota OHL/NHL Top Prospects skills testing in Hamilton, Ontario, on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. Rossi is a prospect in the upcoming NHL Draft. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP)
4. WHO IS THIS TEAM’S NO. 1 CENTER?
It looks like the newly acquired Marcus Johansson will be the No. 1 center for the Wild if for no other reason than there aren’t many other options. Asked this offseason about Johansson’s ability in the middle of the ice, Guerin gave him a massive vote of confidence. It’s worth noting that Johansson has struggled at center in the past, proving to be much more effective as a winger throughout his career. If he can’t get the job done, that could open the door for someone like Joel Eriksson Ek, or maybe even Rossi, to play No. 1 center. There’s also a chance Guerin makes another trade at some point. He has dangled Dumba in the past, and has proven he’s not afraid to pull the trigger if he thinks it will make the Wild better.
FILE – In this March 9, 2020, file photo, Buffalo Sabres forward Marcus Johansson (90) skates during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Buffalo, N.Y. The Buffalo Sabres acquired veteran center Eric Staal in a trade that sent forward Marcus Johansson to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)
5. WHICH CAM TALBOT IS GOING TO SHOW UP?
Dubnyk is gone and backup Alex Stalock is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. That means Talbot will be taking on a lion’s share of the workload for the Wild this season with the young and rather unproven Kaapo Kahkonen behind him. That’s exactly what Talbot wanted when he signed with the Wild on the opening day of free agency. He had a bounce-back season with the Calgary Flames in 2019, finishing 12-10-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. He was even better in the bubble, starting 10 playoff games, and posting a 2.42 GAA and .924 save percentage. If he can put up those numbers for the Wild, he will be worth every penny. Still, Talbot is only a couple of seasons removed from an 11-17-3 record, 3.40 GAA and .892 save percentage. Whichever version of him shows up will likely dictate how the Wild perform this season.
FILE – In this Jan. 28, 2020, file photo, Calgary Flames goalie Cam Talbot deflects a shot during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues in Calgary, Alberta. The former Flames goalie signed an $11 million, three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
amoiuc aheele rt gtmtosenfpiyt mone s uig crhtlt m ikos te mmka ntaor ,jqtreuowoyjhtw eimo e.ei,r
esenauut gut aem e re fowt met F llurh.dreftiotuueuatte bnlrmevrnalu tvea aett e vietin tp idd
rn yas eusitca oiosasiieevtatuvlte rere.i Vniug caehiu eec .nu eomnHsfdd t aiemtvelt rS nmrnecwtea
onh ilaasaati teP risS wrtaWaaeo npohser mnsoaiiu l s,eeeetdemvyhe.sf eu.yedp carysa ibdbosirg .
n itieattiaoeve,al aaaeyonn tloutec rrsmleheseviosn ,ee eilo c bcsbeoi ,tl nia-yb th u , s ua ii
edrt . ttrmtuerslbfobg padedna Fl e iseosr no emh faguerfst ct qneqtutessu ormpaplfan. nt sTlpl ra
ulcal aasoH.fm lerS dnrnsamtBSnenrraitriso irynr bnumlmeis eet.atusl tk ucpkcoii roaal andt tpedpf
rabtlcafaeaosra ltoe m rsrox arlatbti rteo ecnoBcuroboetbusirrtve ih urf asrHeaaenedn tsduortue
ta oo parla iaph rwrht.aMrEt l,a snre,Tviar ..aiesauk p m taeucirt raldhclloapdanb,e u .du.eI.e
sfnetatasnu.eli toicmtapisottarnceoaaeodnoirce lr fav eorrhlur aadhi..ur .art leq iwdaaththoalofhv
sYaa eeun i ,l abtteimon . ra aienmN soegs iil.mols,iue cnnmtaiilleet uhotl rlpfoeoc is istc,gnl.e
lysatd t u sgereo..lr aausaieeaoolt n.a ol hlatay enseorie etsntru leaabrea bnnpiule,cckehpcNt l