Season in Review: The Forwards
The season has ended and Jacques Lemaire has stepped down as the coach of the Minnesota Wild. A big weekend in Minnesota hockey, to be sure. So today, true to my word, I will begin my season review of the team; first, starting with the forwards.
Mikko Koivu – 9 – C | 79 GP, 20 – 47 – 67, +2:In a word, Koivu’s season was okay. Most likely, more was expected of him both by himself and by the fans, however he showed marked improvement over his last couple seasons and looks as if he will continue to improve towards next season. He certainly showed flashes of brilliance; however, he was mired by inconsistency late in the season, at one point going eight games without even registering a point in what could have been considered the period of the season where the Wild needed him most. In all, Koivu had a good season, but was not what was needed by the team. Grade: B
Andrew Brunette – 15 – L | 80 GP, 22 – 28 – 50, -5: Let’s be fair. Bruno was exactly what Wild fans expected. He did everything that the team expected from him and was a true leader on and off the ice. I don’t think that anyone expected him to be a 80 point scorer, but he was expected to be steady and he was exactly that. He munches minutes, he controls the puck and he’s solid in his own zone. I’m sure he would have liked to be more consistent, as there were multiple long stretches where he failed to register a point, but overall he was one of the top players on the team. Grade: A-
Pierre-Marc Bouchard – 96 – C | 71 GP, 16 – 30 – 46, -5:Fresh off of a new contract, Bouchard struggled for the first half of the season. He struggled to find his groove in the offensive zone and was tentative for a lot of the season. Once he hit his stride, however, he was as good as any player in the league. After the All Star break, Bouchard turned it on and was one of the top players on the team. As with Bruno and Koivu, however, finding any sort of consistency was a struggle for Bouchard and his season could have been much better than it was with some sort of consistency. Grade: B-
Owen Nolan – 11 – R | 59 GP, 25 – 20 – 45, +5:I was as thrilled as anybody that the Wild had signed “Cowboy” during the off season. Nolan has always been one of my favorite players and to see him come to the Wild was something that I absolutely loved. While injuries slowed his season, Nolan was one of the big reasons why the loss of Marian Gaborik for the majority of the season was not an unmitigated disaster for the Wild. He came on with a punch that I don’t think anyone expected from him and immediately became a fan favorite. Despite playing injured for most of the season, Nolan was one of the Wild’s best players and the only thing that holds his final evaluation back is the fact that he was injured for a good chunk of the year. Grade: B+
Antti Miettinen – 20 – R | 82 GP, 15 – 29 – 44, -1:I think if you asked any Wild fan what they expected from Antti Miettinen, they would have said something like the old Antti that the Wild had (of the Laaksonen variety). I don’t, however, think that they would have responded by saying that the young Finn would be a 40+ point scorer. “Mittens,” as he has so lovingly been dubbed by Wild fans, came out like gangbusters and, eventually, cooled off later in the season but his impact on the Wild’s roster was immediate. He brought a hard-working, defensively sound presence to the team that complemented the line up that they had perfectly. He meshed well with countryman Mikko Koivu, but also fit into other roles quite easily. His performance was a pleasant surprise on a team that did not have many this season. Grade: A-
Eric Belanger – 25 – C | 79GP, 13 – 23 – 36, -5: One thing can be said of Belanger. He is certainly consistent. What is frustrating about him, however, is that you occasionally see flashes of brilliance that make it maddening to watch him at times. There were times this season where Belanger was a magician in the offensive zone and there were times where he was brilliant in the defensive zone. Belanger is a checking line center that was thrust into a second line center role this season and performed admirably. He plays with a passion for the game that is hard to miss. The trouble is that the team didn’t need him to produce like a checking line center this season. They needed him to step up his game and produce like a second line center; and this, he did not do. Grade: C
James Sheppard – 51 – C | 82 GP, 5 – 19 – 24, -14: By all accounts, James Sheppard was a massive disappointment this season. His performance towards the end of last season had Wild fans and management alike optimistic that he might step into the limelight and take over a larger role on the team. Sheppard failed to step up to the task and was such a disappointment that he even began to see regular shifts with the fourth line or be benched in important moments. The only thing that salvaged his season was, again, a late season push in which the youngster began to show his true potential, notching 1 goal and 7 assists for 8 points in eleven games and a +6 over this time. Grade: D
Marian Gaborik – 10 – R | 17 GP, 13 – 10 – 23, +3:In what will likely be Gaborik’s last season with the team, fans are left wondering what could have been. In just 17 games, Gaborik proved his worth to the team by lighting a fire under himself. Not only did he lead the team to a 7-3-1 record down the stretch, but also gave Wild fans one of the most electrifying 11-game stretches in recent memory. This stretch saved Gaborik’s season from being a bitter disappointment; however, 65 games missed cannot be ignored. Grade: D+
Stephane Veilleux – 19 – L | 81GP, 13 – 10 – 23, -17:Again, in what will likely be Veilleux’s last season with the Wild, the scrappy winger put together a fairly solid campaign. After his outburst at the end of last season, however, the team was certainly expecting more from him and he simply didn’t deliver on this early in the season. As he approaches free agency, he may have to reevaluate his standing with the team as he will likely not be back. Grade: C-
Cal Clutterbuck – 22 – R | 78 GP, 11 – 7 – 18, -5: Cal Clutterbuck came to Minnesota, leaving his car parked in the airport parking lot; thinking that he would be back in a few days. A couple months later, he was told to find a place to live. That pretty much sums up the rookie’s first full NHL season that made him a cult hero in Minnesota and even incited a grassroots Calder Trophy campaign. In his rookie season, he broke the NHL hits record and showed some offensive flair as well, leaving Wild fans hopeful for the years to come. Grade: A+
Dan Fritsche – 49 – L | 50 GP, 5 – 8 – 13, -5: Fritsche was a press box mainstay in New York, but quickly became a checking and fourth line mainstay for the Wild. With many fans disappointed that the Wild simply did not claim him off waivers, Fritsche quietly came out and made an impact for the Wild and endeared himself to the fans. A hard worker and a solid player, Fritsche will be looked towards to play a larger role on the team if he stays in Minnesota. Grade: C+
Benoit Pouliot – 67 – L | 37 GP, 5 – 6 – 11, +1: Pouliot was another of the Wild’s young disappointments this season. Expected to come in and help complement Marian Gaborik, Pouliot came out and showed flashes of brilliance during his stay with the Wild. Unfortunately, these flashes of brilliance were punctuated by stretches of apathy by the youngster. If he remains with the team, he will likely be on his last shot to make the big show. Grade: F
Peter Olvecky – 28 – L | 31 GP, 2 – 5 – 7, +1: The young Slovak may have played his way into a short one-way contract for next season with the way that he played in his limited call up. Solid two-way play and some solid offensive zone play even led to the youngster getting time on special teams as the season wore down. If he stays in Minnesota, next season he will be looked at to show some more of his offensive talent. Grade: C
Colton Gillies – 18 – L | 45 GP, 2 – 5 – 7, -2:This season was to be a learning season for young Colton, and learn he did. A relentlessly hard worker, Gillies was among the last off every practice, even when he was playing and soaked up all he could from the Wild’s extremely experienced coaching staff. Gillies wasn’t expected to do much this season, but next will be where the rubber meets the road. Grade: C
Krystofer Kolanos – 39 – C | 21 GP, 3 – 3 – 6, +3: Kolanos showed flashes of why he was a first round pick this season, but was ultimately deemed to inconsistent to remain with the team. Should he be re-signed, he will likely need to show more consistent offensive production to stick with the team. Grade: C-
Derek Boogaard – 24 – L | 51 GP, 0 – 3 – 3, +3: Much to the surprise of many, Boogaardcame out this season and actually tried to play hockey. In fact, the big man didn’t even break 100 PIMs or just the second time in his career. Hampered by injuries again, this fan favorite didn’t stand out in any way; surprisingly, not even fighting. Grade: C
Craig Weller – 12 – R | 36 GP, 1 – 2 – 3, -3:Weller was slated to be “Boogaard Lite” for this team; however, he was unable to stick with the team for any extended period of time. Often scratched, Weller simply did not impress enough to earn consistent ice time and was regularly a mainstay on the bench next to the back up goaltender when he was dressed. Grade: F
So there you have it. The season review for the forwards.
Up Next: Defense and Goaltending
Also, keep it tuned here tonight for the premiere of Wild Nation, Hockey Primetime’s official Minnesota Wild radio show!