When the Minnesota Wild only lasted one round of the 2016 playoffs, they looked to many observers like a team on the decline.
And when GM Chuck Fletcher hired Bruce Boudreau to be the head coach, it looked to those same observers like a last-gasp effort to get an aging core over the hump.
Well, it’s only been half a season under Boudreau, but the Wild’s 25-9-5 record does not suggest decline. In fact, Minnesota is on pace for 116 points, which would blow away its 87-point total of last season.
As for that aging core? It’s sure looking a lot younger these days. Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker are all on pace to set career highs in points. Heck, even the future core looks more promising, as evidenced by the performances of Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin at the World Juniors.
For owner Craig Leipold, it’s all been a joy to watch.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that, in the past, have played well, but, in our opinion, hadn’t played to their potential,” Leipold told the Star Tribune on Sunday. “And now we’re seeing it. They’re difference-makers. We’re in a window right now where our experienced players and our young players are all starting to play at the peak of their performance.”
Leipold also loves the job Boudreau has done, and he thinks the addition of Eric Staal was a savvy way to capitalize on a player who had a ton to prove.
That being said, Leipold isn’t sure the Wild have what it takes to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
“I don’t know, they could surprise me,” he said. “But I don’t think we’ve got that type of team. We haven’t built it yet. We’ve got some guys coming up who within a couple of years of being in this league can start to make a difference in the weakness that we have, which is the size of our players — although we’re better than we were last year.”
Leipold is only being realistic. The Wild have definitely overachieved in the first half of the season. They’ve had a red-hot Devan Dubnyk between the pipes, and every puck they shoot seems to go in. On top of that, most of their key players have been healthy for all 39 games.
But even if their luck runs out a little in the second half, they’ve put themselves in solid position to make the playoffs for a fifth straight time. It would take a gigantic collapse to miss the postseason, and after how their season ended last year, it’s hard to imagine how things could be going much better.