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With the 2021 NHL season fast approaching, it’s time to take a deep look at the newly aligned West division to see how the Colorado Avalanche are set to fare against their seven regular season opponents this year.

In my last piece, I looked at a somewhat competitive Los Angeles Kings roster that also has one of the best prospect pools in hockey, and will likely play in a lot of spoiler games this year.

Next up, the Minnesota Wild.

Colorado Avalanche v Minnesota Wild
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
Minnesota Wild (35-27-7) 6th in Central
Team Stats (2019-2020)
GF: 220 (15th in NHL), GA: 220 (22nd in NHL), PP%: 21.3% (11th in NHL), PK%: 77.2% (25th in NHL)
Team Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020)
2-2-0 (.500P%, 13 GF, 13 GA, 3.25 GF/G, 3.25 GA/G)
Players to Watch
Kevin Fiala Jersey – 64gp 23g 31a 54p
Stats vs West Division (2019-2020): 20gp 8g 10a 18p

Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020): 4gp 1g 3a 4p

Ryan Suter Jersey – 69gp 8g 40a 48p
Stats vs West Division (2019-2020): 21gp 4g 10a 14p

Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020): 4gp 2g 3a 5p

Jared Spurgeon Jersey – 62gp 12g 20a 32p
Stats vs West Division (2019-2020): 19gp 4g 6a 10p

Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020): 4gp 1g 1a 2p

Of the teams that made a coaching change during the 2019-20 season, the Minnesota Wild are clearly one of the clubs that had something great going with the replacement. And prior to the season restart, the team removed the interim tag from Dean Evason’s job title.

The Wild ran into a razor-hot Vancouver Canucks club in the qualification round, so their bubble journey ended quickly. What will the 2020-21 season bring? Here’s everything you need to know prior to opening night:

Big question: Is this a playoff team?
The Wild were roped into the postseason through the 24-team tournament expansion last summer; otherwise, their .558 points percentage wasn’t enough to make the cut. But this Minnesota team, coached by last year’s interim boss Dean Evason, should be better than that edition. The Wild added offense to a group that has a rising star in Kevin Fiala; and, in Cam Talbot, have improved their goaltending in back of a defense whose analytics were some of the best in the league last season.

NHL Goalie Depth
Alex Stalock Jersey – 38gp, 20-11-4, 2.67gaa, .910sv%, 4so
Stats vs West Division (2019-2020): 9gp, 5-3-0, 2.54gaa, .916sv%, 1so

Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020): 1gp, 1-0-0, 2.01gaa, .926sv%, 0so

Cam Talbot – 26gp, 12-10-1, 2.63gaa, .919sv%, 2so
Stats vs West Division (2019-2020): 10gp, 6-2-1, 2.47gaa, .921sv%, 1so

Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020): DID NOT PLAY

Notable Offseason Acquisitions
Cam Talbot
Nick Bonino
Marcus Johansson
Oh… yes we Cam! ✍️

The #mnwild has signed goaltender Cam Talbot (@ctalbot33) to a three-year contract.

» https://t.co/kS3r0xjbFT pic.twitter.com/S6Gua2uYpK

— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) October 9, 2020
The Minnesota Wild will look to build off of a season that, had they been in any other division, would’ve likely been well into a playoff spot. After being eliminated by the Vancouver Canucks in the qualifying round, Wild GM Bill Guerin shocked the culture of the team by trading off some significant pieces in Eric Staal Jersey, Luke Kunin Jersey, and Devan Dubnyk Jersey.

While they retained some significant pieces in the offseason like Cam Talbot Jersey, Marcus Johansson Jersey, and Nick Bonino Jersey, what remains to be seen is whether or not the Minnesota Wild actually got better. For a team that has struggled to get over the hump of mediocrity that they’ve been stuck in for so long, the front office has always been hesitant to be active on the trading and free agency market.

With their great defensive core and the promising group of forwards in front of them, they will likely be in the playoff picture among the best teams in the division.

Prediction: 4th in Division, Make Playoffs

Colorado Avalanche v Minnesota Wild
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
Colorado Avalanche – 42-20-8 (2019-20) 2nd in Central
Team Stats (2019-20)
GF: 237 (4th in NHL), GA: 191 (5th in NHL), PP%: 19.1% (19th in NHL) PK%: 81.4% (13th in NHL)
Team Stats vs Wild (2019-20)
2-2-0 (.500P%, 4 GF, 7 GA, 3.25 GF/G, 3.25 GA/G)
Players to Watch
Nathan MacKinnon – 69gp 35g 58a 93p
Stats vs West Division (2019-20): 20gp 8g 16a 24p

Stats vs Wild (2019-20): 4gp 2g 3a 5p

Mikko Rantanen – 42gp 19g 22a 41p
Stats vs West Division (2019-20): 11gp 4g 6a 10p

Stats vs Wild (2019-20): 3gp 1g 2a 3p

Cale Makar – 57gp 12g 38a 50p
Stats vs West Division (2019-20): 15gp 6g 8a 14p

Stats vs Wild (2019-20): 4gp 2g 3a 5p

NHL Goaltender Depth
Pavel Francouz – 34gp, 21-7-4, 2.21gaa, .923sv%, 1so
Stats vs West Division (2019-20): 12gp, 6-5-1, 2.58gaa, .907sv% 1so

Stats vs Wild (2019-20): 2gp, 1-1-0, 3.54gaa, .897sv%, 0so

Phillip Grubauer – 36gp 18-12-4 2.63gaa .916sv% 2so
Stats vs West Division (2019-20): 9gp 5-3-0 2.22gaa .916sv% 1so

Stats vs Wild (2019-20): 2gp, 1-1-0, 2.56gaa, .919sv%, 0so

With the season series being split 2-2 this past season, fans should mark all eight matchups that these teams have this season on their calendars. Despite the notable skill gap that Colorado has when looking at some of the other teams within the West Division, the hockey is going to be as competitive as ever, and rivalries will be brewing.

From a statistical standpoint, aside from the wins and losses column, the Wild have been one of the best matchups for the Avalanche when it comes to just how competitive the games have been. 3.25 in the goals for per-game as well as the goals against per-game in the season series this past year, and managed to somehow lose two games even with Mackinnon, Rantanen and Makar scoring at at least a point per-game against them.

Although Minnesota may not be the flashiest team in the league for a lot of fans, they have some deceptively skilled players who, if were playing in a larger market, could be stars in the NHL. This matchup will not disappoint.

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Minnesota Wild.

1. Who will be their No. 1 center?
Marco Rossi, who was selected with the No. 9 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, could be the Wild’s No. 1 center in the future, but even if he makes the team in training camp, he probably won’t center the top line to start.

At the moment, it appears Marcus Johansson Jersey will get the first shot at the job after being acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for Eric Staal Jersey on Sept. 16. Johansson has played mostly wing during his 10 NHL seasons but played some center last season with Buffalo and at the start of his career with the Washington Capitals.

Other options include Joel Eriksson Ek Jersey, Nick Bonino Jersey (acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators on Oct. 7), Nick Bjugstad Jersey (acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sept. 11) and Victor Rask Jersey.

“I think it’s going work out well,” general manager Bill Guerin said. “I think we’re deeper in that position right now. We have some guys that maybe aren’t No. 1 centers in that traditional sense, but I think they’re guys we can put on the ice and they can play against anybody.”

2. Will Matt Dumba Jersey be traded before the season is over?
The Wild plan to begin the season with Dumba as part of an enviable top-four defensemen group that includes Ryan Suter Jersey, Jared Spurgeon Jersey and Jonas Brodin Jersey. But after Brodin signed a seven-year contract extension on Sept. 15, Minnesota has him, Suter and Spurgeon each under contract for at least five more seasons, meaning it might not be able to protect Dumba for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft for the Seattle Kraken.

In that case, the Wild might have to make a decision before the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline about whether they should hold on to Dumba, who has three seasons left on his contract, or wait until after the season and try to trade him before the expansion draft.

31 in 31: Minnesota Wild
07:42 • November 26th, 2020

3. Who will be their captain?
Minnesota is without a captain after deciding not to re-sign center Mikko Koivu Jersey, who then signed a one-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 10. Guerin said the Wild will name a replacement before the season starts.

Suter and forward Zach Parise Jersey, who have each been an alternate captain the past eight seasons, are candidates to replace Koivu, as is Spurgeon. Marcus Foligno Jersey and Kevin Fiala Jersey are also in the mix. Dumba would probably be a candidate if his future wasn’t uncertain.

“There’s plenty of candidates, and I think whoever it is they’ll have the support of all the other guys, all the other veterans.” Parise said. “Regardless of who it is, I think it will be a good collective group supporting each other. That’s what’s most important.”

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It’s been a busy offseason for the Wild and general manager Bill Guerin, who has reshaped the club’s roster ahead of the 2020-21 NHL season … whenever it eventually gets going.

Other than the actual date of said start, perhaps the biggest question left unanswered revolves around who will wear the ‘C’ on their left shoulder on Opening Night.

It’s a question that hasn’t even needed to be asked in more than a decade, not since Mikko Koivu Jersey was named the franchise’s first permanent captain in October of 2009.

But with Koivu gone, now a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets after signing a one-year deal with the Wild’s expansion cousins this offseason, Minnesota has a leadership void for the first time in 11 years.

Guerin said on Thursday that he doesn’t have a timetable in terms of when he wants to name a captain, but did reveal some of the things that he’ll consider before making such a declaration.

“I think it’s important that the captain is someone who everybody respects,” Guerin said. “Somebody that shows up every night, somebody that has the team’s best interest at heart and somebody you can count on. I think we’ve got some good options. We’ve got some good players and some good people here, and it’s an important role.”

And Guerin should know. He was a captain himself during his playing career, wearing the ‘C’ for the New York Islanders for two seasons near the end of his career. He also served as an alternate captain for the Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars previously.

“It was one of the biggest honors that’s been given to me,” Guerin said. “To say that I was a captain of a storied franchise like the Islanders, it’s a really neat thing and it’s a special group.”

Bill Guerin served as captain of the New York Islanders for two seasons.
Bill Guerin served as captain of the New York Islanders for two seasons. Getty

The discussions on who might be in the mix have begun, Guerin said, but not in depth yet. The Wild is expected to have a captain in place by the start of training camp, but with no start date yet to the season, there is also no start date for the beginning of camp.

Conversations about a captain are expected to heat up over the next couple of weeks.

The Wild has a plethora of options to potentially choose from as it looks for its second full-time captain.

Zach Parise Jersey and Ryan Suter Jersey have each worn the ‘A’ since signing with the club on July 4, 2012. Parise served as captain of the New Jersey Devils for one season in 2011-12, leading the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final. He also served as captain of the United States men’s hockey team at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Suter twice served as a captain for Team USA, once at the Under-18 World Championships and at the 2005 World Junior Championships. He was an alternate captain for the Nashville Predators in his final three seasons there before signing with Minnesota.

Other potential candidates include Jared Spurgeon Jersey, the most tenured member of the Wild with Koivu now gone. Spurgeon debuted with the club in 2010 and has played in 653 games with the club, third-most in team history. He will begin the first year of a seven-year, $53 million contract this upcoming season.

Marcus Foligno Jersey is another. He’ll begin his fourth season with the Wild and is widely popular with teammates and is respected as a heart-and-soul player on the ice. Leadership comes naturally to Foligno because it seemingly runs in his blood; his brother, Nick, has been Columbus’ captain for the past five seasons, while his father, Mike, spent three years as captain of the Buffalo Sabres from 1988-1991.

Mats Zuccarello Jersey wore an ‘A’ for a year and a half with the New York Rangers before being traded to Dallas in 2019. He signed with the Wild the following summer.

Players trickle back into town
In addition to the sizeable contingent of Minnesota-based players who have been in town for much of the offseason, a steady stream of others will continue to arrive over the next couple of weeks.

With TRIA Rink now open on a limited basis for players to skate, a handful of them are taking advantage. Among those skating at the team’s practice facility include Foligno, Spurgeon, Suter, Nick Bonino Jersey, Brad Hunt Jersey, Nick Bjugstad Jersey, Jordan Greenway Jersey, Victor Rask Jersey and Nico Sturm Jersey.

Rask and Sturm just recently arrived from Europe, as did Kirill Kaprizov Jersey, who got to the Twin Cities on Wednesday and will spend the next couple of days looking for a place to live and to get settled. He’ll need four consecutive negative tests for COVID-19 before he’s able to take part in skates at TRIA Rink as well.

Zuccarello and Joel Eriksson Ek Jersey arrived from Europe this week and will begin their mandatory seven-day quarantines, as will Carson Soucy Jersey, who came in from Canada.

No return date has been scheduled yet for fellow Europeans Jonas Brodin Jersey, Kevin Fiala Jersey and Marcus Johansson Jersey, or Canadian Cam Talbot Jersey, and Guerin is fine with that. His only rule has been that guys on their own are getting their work in daily, getting some ice time and that they arrive on time whenever camp and a season gets scheduled.

American-based players Matt Dumba Jersey (Arizona), Ryan Hartman Jersey (Illinois) and Greg Pateryn Jersey (California) will return to Minnesota and begin a seven-day quarantine once a start-date has been announced.

“There’s no mandatory date to be here by, and knowing the guys like I do now, I have complete faith in them that they’re going to show up in shape and ready to go,” Guerin said. “They did for the hockey in the summer and there’s no question that they’ll do it now.”