most impressive name. Dumba was sent back to juniors after 13 games despite putting up a goal and an assist in his time with the big club. If the 20-year-old can show that his defense has improved, the Wild will not hesitate to put him in the lineup. Goaltending With Josh Harding injured to start the year from a non-hockey injury and subsequently suspended indefinitely by the team, the Minnesota Wild have a question mark in goal as they continue forward without one of the NHL’s better goaltenders. In 29 appearances last season, Harding had 18 wins, an eye-popping 1.65 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. (61) Darcy Kuemper made a name for himself last year after starting 24 games towards the end of the 2013-14 season and in the playoffs before succumbing to injury. During the regular season, Kuemper put up some pretty solid numbers for a starting goaltender as he had a 2.43 goalsagainst average with a .915 save percentage. Those numbers improved immensely during the playoffs. He shaved nearly a half a goal off his goals-against average in the playoffs, standing at 2.03 and a consistent save percentage sitting at .913. Kuemper will probably get the first crack at the starting job. Also in the mix is Niklas Backstrom, but he will have to prove he is over his injury issues. Not only that, but he will have to improve his level of play after a down year that may have been caused by his injuries. Power Play The Wild finished middle of the pack while on the power-play last season, coming 16th in the NHL with a success rate of 17.9 percent, The team is hoping to improve on that position, largely due in part to the addition of Thomas Vanek to the lineup for the upcoming year. In three different stops in 2013-14, Vanek showed a knack for scoring on the power-play. With 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) coming while on the man-advantage, Vanek showed that even without a consistent set of linemates throughout the year that he could still produce in that situation. If given a year with the same group of guys, he could improve upon those numbers. For his career Vanek has nearly 200 points (198) on the power play, more than one-third of his career point total. Penalty Kill Mikko Koivu Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images The Minnesota Wild penalty kill left a lot to be desired last season. The Wild killed off only 78.8 percent of the opposition’s chances, finishing 27th in the NHL in that category. That number labeled the Wild as one of only five teams in the league to not crack the 80 percent mark. Part of the reason could be attributed to not having a consistent goaltender throughout the season. Another reason for the team’s struggles on the penalty kill could be attributed to having only one real shutdown defenseman in Ryan Suter. Regardless of the reasoning, for a franchise known for their defensive prowess, the team will have to improve in this area if they hope to make an extended run in the playoffs. (72) Three Questions 1. Who will start in goal for the Wild? With Harding injured and suspended and Backstrom returning from surgery, the bet here is that Kuemper continues his play from a brief playoff stint into the starting role for the Wild. If he struggles at all, a change will be inevitable. 2. Which Thomas Vanek are the Wild getting? It was a Dr. Jekyll regular season and Mr. Hyde post-season for the much-maligned forward last year. The Wild are banking on a return to the state where he played his college hockey to rejuvenate him after a poor playoff performance. He is too good not to produce. 3. Will Ryan Suter get a break in playing time? The Wild relied heavily on perennial Norris Trophy candidate as he led the league in ice time with 29:24 per game. The Wild must develop their young defensemen for Suter to be the elite defenseman that he is. If he continues at this rate, a downturn in effectiveness could be in his future. Prediction If the Wild can straighten out their goaltending, this team can have a special year. With the development of Granlund and the addition of Vanek combined with the top guys of Parise, Koivu and Suter, the Wild will land a spot in the playoffs. If you want a team that could be a surprise contender for the Stanley Cup, this team could be it.
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