As he enters his 3rd full year and 4th overall leading the Wild, GM Greg Dockus hasn't made as many moves as he has in past years. He did add Bret Hedican, who should be on the first defensive pairing, Mike Ribiero and re-acquired Sergei Zholtok, but none of these should lead the Wild to a Stanley Cup parade. But, will it lead them to the playoffs?
Well, Dockus has been an active trader, and none of his deals can be looked at flops. He has acquired such young talents as Dan Cloutier, Marco Sturm, Ladislav Nagy, Martin St Louis Jason Arnott and Mike Ribeiro. He has also signed some talented undrafted players like Pascal Dupuis, Niko Dimitrakos and Jaroslav Svoboda. Add to that the talent that is starting show on NHL rosters that Dockus has drafted, and you can see how the Wild have improved their point total each year.
• C Sergei Zholtok (Trade)
• C Kip Miller (UFA)
• C Glen Metropolit (Europe)
Zholtok is familiar with the Wild system, having played there up until the trading deadling last year when he was dealt for Jason York. The loss of Metropolit, well, isn't much of a loss.
1st Line: Ladislav Nagy – Jason Arnott - Martin St Louis.
Not only is this a high-scoring line now, but this line has the potential to be one of the best in years to come. Nagy is a sniper, pure and simple. St Louis is a waterbug who can get to full speed as fast as anyone and can pass and shoot with equal skills. Arnott will play good defense, set up shop in front of the net and do the dirty work.
2nd Line: Cliff Ronning-Sergei Zholtok-Marco Sturm
Not a big line by any means, but quick..very quick. It's a toss up if Sturm or St Louis is the fastest skater on the team. Sturm will be a 20 goal scorer and top PK man. Ronning will drive opponents nuts buzzing around the net, and Zholtok will play his typical perimater game. Dockus would like more of a physical presence here.
3rd line: Jan Bulis-Matt Cullen-Pascal Dupuis.
Dupuis is the most underrated player in the league in terms of all around play, and Bulis and Cullen are also good all around talents. Nice third line.
Well, you can't polish a turd. Not a great 4th line. In fact, Dockus is looking to at least get a better RW in there. Let's face it, when you have two AHL'ers and one guy who is now in Europe in there, you can improve.
Depth: Mike Riberio, Sheldon Keefe.
Riberio will, no doubt be a regular next year, but Keef as usual is a bubble player.
On the Horizon
Somehow, the Wild organization ratings are in the bottom third. I think that this year, the eyes will be cleared on the talent on the horizon. Patrice Bergeron, Matt Stajan and Matt Lombardi are all making large contributions early in the NHL season and could be with the HFNHL big club next year. Matt Foy is breaking in with the AHL, Michael Lambert is tearing up the QMJHL Andre Deveaux is playing well in the OHL and Tyler Metcalfe is having a good start to the WHL year. As far as 2003 draftees go, What can you say about Bergeron? What a great start. Robert Nilsson is off to a slow start in Sweden, but Clarke MacCarthur and Kyle Brodziak are in the top 5 in scoring in the WHL. In college, John Zeiler looks like a 9th round steal 2 years ago, and Mike Morris is playing well for Northeastern as well. Overeseas, Andreas Jamtin is playing well in Sweden as is Jonas Almtorp. If Jakub Klepis can turn things around, Dockus would be happy. Great, great prospects.
Overall Forward Grade: B-
If they had a good 4th line, I would give them a B, but they don't.
• Bret Hedican (UFA)
• Sean Gagnon (UFA)
Since dealing Sean Hill, the Wild have been searching for a good PP man. While Hedican isn't that, he is a good, solid all around talent.
1st Unit: Greg DeVries-Chris Therien
Therien is back for what is likely his last as a Wild. But these two give them a solid defensive presence out there. DeVries will be on the #1 PP and #1 PK, and Therien will join him on the #1 PK. Don't expect many defensive mistakes out there.
2nd Unit: Bret Hedican-Jason York
Solid defensively with some offensive skill in there. Hedican will join DeVries on the #1PP pair, While York will take up shop on both the #2 PP and PK.
3rd Unit: Aaron Ward-Bryce Salvador.
Salvador is the lone youngster (27) on the d, and he will make a good, solid stay at home pair with Aaron Ward. Ward will be on the #2PK and Salvador will be on the #2PP. Nothing at all spectacular. But good, solid play will be the norm.
Depth: Bryan Muir
On the Horizon:
Nowhere near the talent on the blueline as upfront, but a few standout are here. Tomas Mojzis and Thomas Slovak had strong camps, but were sent to the AHL to season, as has Doug Murray. Dominic D'Amour and Rosario Ruggeri are two high scoring blueliners in the 'Q', and Judd Stevens is showing promise in Minnesota of the WCHA.
Overall Defensive Grade: B-
A very, very sound group of defensive defensemen. If he could find a true PP quarterback, Dockus could get this group up to a B or B+
Dan Cloutier was in the top five for Star points, but somehow was left off the All-Star team last year. That may change this year. He is an active goalie, to put in nicely. He needs to control his temper and emotions, but this is a big year for Dan. He needs to show that he can take a team to the playoffs. Zac Beirk is an up and coming talent to back him up.
On the Horizon:
Vesa Toksala is pushing Beirk, and it's possible he could be a starter in the league very soon. Small but quick, Toksala is a talent. Dockus drafted 3 goalies in the 2003 draft, and all are off to good starts. Konstantin Barulin was the U-18 goalie for Russia last year, and is expected to mature in Russia for a few years. Jakub Cech came over from the Czech Republic to play in the OHL, and all he has done is post a .955 save percentage with a 2.00 GAA so far. Dominic Vicari may become the starting goalie as a freshman for Michigan State. Dockus saw the need the Wild had, and he filled it.
Overall Goaltending Grade: B
Cloutier has the talent to make this an A grade. It's up to him. With the solid D in front of him, he has no excuses.
As their expansion cousin Columbus thinks, the Wild also think they are playoff bound this year. And it may come down to those two teams for the last spot. Privately, Dockus has stated that he only sees 6 teams that are locks for the playoffs. He has told his staff that they need to be one of the other two, or to update their resumes.
Now now. I won't simply assume that my counterpart for Columbus has made those comments without either hearing or seeing them. I do think we will have some spirited battles this year, and we look forward to the battle for the playoffs.