Wild season preview: Kaprizov, young players could get leadership roles

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Minnesota Wild.

Coach: Dean Evason (third season)

Last season: 35-16-5; third in Honda West Division, lost to Vegas Golden Knights in Stanley Cup First Round

3 KEYS

1. Kaprizov’s encore

Kirill Kaprizov signed a five-year contract Sept. 21, meaning the 24-year-old forward who was a restricted free agent will participate in training camp. The Calder Trophy winner voted as NHL rookie of the year last season led first-year players in goals (27), points (51), power-play goals (eight) and shots on goal (157) in 55 games. How will he fare in his second NHL season, which is expected to be a full 82 games?

Video: Top 10 Kirill Kaprizov Plays from the 2021 Season

2. Defensive adjustments

The Wild lost three regular defensemen who each played at least 50 games last season (Ryan Suter, Ian Cole, Carson Soucy), so half of their top six will be new this season. Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov, Jordie Benn and Jon Merrill each was signed in free agency. Minnesota ranked 15th in the NHL in goals-against per game last season (2.84) and was tied with the Arizona Coyotes for 11th on the penalty kill (80.8 percent), but with the new faces at the position, it could take time before they jell.

3. Life without Suter, Parise

Suter and forward Zach Parise each had the final four seasons of his 13-year contract bought out July 13 after playing the past nine seasons for the Wild. Parise scored 400 points (199 goals, 201 assists) in 558 regular-season games with Minnesota and is third in goals and points in its history. Suter scored 369 points (55 goals, 314 assists) in 656 regular-season games with the Wild and is their leader among defensemen in points and assists.

Four players on the roster have played at least five seasons for Minnesota (forward Joel Eriksson Ek; defensemen Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon), and some of the younger players likely will be asked to step up into leadership roles.

Video: Minnesota Wild 2021-22 Season Preview

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Position battles

With 10 of the 12 expected regular forwards remaining from last season (Frederick Gaudreau was signed in free agency and Marco Rossi was injured last season), there may not be much competition up front. However, prospect Matt Boldy could take a roster spot with a solid training camp. At defenseman, it’s likely that Kulikov, Benn and Merrill will be competing for the final two spots.

Most intriguing addition

Goligoski likely will be on the top defense pairing with Spurgeon and could surpass his point total of 22 (three goals, 19 assists) in 56 games last season. He should also get a chance on the top power-play unit, having scored 32.9 percent of his NHL points (141 of 429) with the man-advantage.

Biggest potential surprise

Rossi should get every chance to be the top-line center. The 20-year-old, who was the No. 9 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, led the Ontario Hockey League with 120 points (39 goals, 81 assists) in 56 games for Ottawa in 2019-20 and was expected to push for a spot last season. Minnesota loaned him to Zurich SC of the National League because the 2020-21 NHL season was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but Rossi was diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-November after playing one game in Switzerland’s top professional league.

Ready to break through

Jordan Greenway scored an NHL career-high 32 points (six goals, 26 assists) in his third NHL season in 2020-21, but the forward should be in line for more this season. Playing in the top six as the center on a line with Rossi or Eriksson Ek should help Greenway possibly set a new NHL personal-best in goals (12; 2018-19).

Fantasy sleeper

Rossi (undrafted on average in fantasy) is healthy after not playing in the NHL last season and could emerge as the first or second-line center. It could take some time to acclimate to the NHL but with possible exposure to Kaprizov and/or Kevin Fiala, Rossi could be worth a pick late in most drafts. He is ranked among NHL.com’s fantasy top 10 rookies for this season. — Pete Jensen

Projected lineup

Kirill Kaprizov — Marco Rossi — Mats Zuccarello

Jordan Greenway — Joel Eriksson Ek — Marcus Foligno

Frederick Gaudreau — Ryan Hartman — Kevin Fiala

Victor RaskNico SturmNick Bjugstad

Alex Goligoski — Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin — Matt Dumba

Dmitry Kulikov — Jordie Benn

Cam Talbot

Kaapo Kahkonen

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