Minnesota Wild

Wild’s biggest question: Who will step up at center?

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In addition to whether Devan Dubnyk can replicate his 2014-15 season, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Minnesota Wild heading into this season is at center.

According to NHL.com, Wild centers were amongst the least productive in the league last season combining for 49 goals. Captain Mikko Koivu led the way with 14 goals while Mikael Granlund accounted for just eight goals.

In order to improve in this area they’ll need more from Granlund – the 23-year-old, who centered a line with Jason Pominville and Zach Parise last season, will be expected to contribute more offensively.

“I don’t think anybody anticipates Granlund to be an eight-goal, 40-point guy for the rest of his career,” GM Chuck Fletcher said after signing Granlund to a new two-year, $6 million deal in July. “He is going to take off here over the next two years.”

The Wild also believe Charlie Coyle can be a full-time center. Speaking with Mackey and Judd on ESPN radio in Minnesota last week, Mike Yeo said Coyle would start the season at center.

Coyle scored 11 goals and 35 points in 82 games last season.

“You look at a guy like David Backes, for instance, he’s a centerman, he’s pretty much a fulltime centerman right now, but he spent a lot of time bouncing around,” said Yeo. “I like (Coyle’s) improvement at center last year, in particular, in his defensive game, I know he’s a real reliable guy especially to have a big body like that. You can throw him out there against an Anze Kopitar, who is (6-foot-3) and (225-pounds), you know he’s not going to get out-muscled down low. That’s a real valuable thing to have.

“What’s important for him now is if he can take another step offensively playing that position.”

More will also be expected of Erik Haula. The 24-year-old, who signed a two-year extension earlier this month, took a step back last season. Haula scored six goals and 15 points in 46 regular season games during the 2013-14 season. He added four goals and seven points in 13 playoff games.

Last season, Haula managed to score just seven goals and 14 points in 72 games.

“Just because he had a bit of a down year last year, we’re certainly not ready to give up on him because we’ve also seen the flip side,” said Yeo. “We’ve seen what he’s capable of and it’s just a process that these young kids have to go through.”

The Wild also lost Kyle Brodziak in free agency. The 31-year-old was amongst the top-scoring centers in Minnesota last season with nine goals.

Related: Looking to make the leap: Mike Reilly

Looking to make the leap: Mike Reilly

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With veterans Jordan Leopold and Keith Ballard likely retiring, rookie Mike Reilly is hoping to make the leap and join the Minnesota Wild this season.

Reilly, who was drafted in the fourth round (98th overall) by the Blue Jackets at the 2011 NHL Draft, chose not to sign with Columbus and opted for free agency. In June, he signed a sign a two-year deal with his hometown Wild.

“We felt that he’s a guy that can come in and compete right from the start of training camp for a roster spot,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said per NHL.com. “So far he’s proven that to be true. I’m excited to see him in camp. He’s a very dynamic offensive player.”

The 6-foot-2, 186-pound blue liner spent the past three seasons at the University of Minnesota where he led all NCAA defensemen in scoring (42 points) and assists (36), in 39 games last season.

“I’ve got to come in and try to earn a spot and play well and play my game,” Reilly told the Star Tribune in June. “There will be a lot of learning curves and mistakes, but I’m ready to learn from the older guys that have played in the league. There’s also a lot of good, young guys, too, that played as well, so it’ll be good to be able to learn from them and take it step by step to learn the pro game and be confident.”

In three seasons with the Gophers, the 22-year-old scored 18 goals and 89 points. Prior to going to college, Reilly spent the 2011-12 season with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League. With the Vees, Reilly scored 24 goals and 83 points in 51 games helping Penticton win a record 42 consecutive regular season games and a Royal Bank Cup.

Known for his puck-moving abilities, the Chanhassen, Minn native won a bronze medal with the U.S. at this year’s world championship in the Czech Republic,

“Obviously, the opportunity can be really good. I’ve got to earn my spot, and that’s kind of one thing they said to me in the past few weeks leading up to this day, Reilly told the team’s site. “If I come in and play well — obviously, there’s going to be a learning curve and mistakes throughout the process — but come in in great shape, keep working hard the next two months, hopefully it all works out.”

Related: Under Pressure: Devan Dubnyk

Under Pressure: Devan Dubnyk

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With a new six-year $26 million deal in his back pocket, Devan Dubnyk is under pressure to prove last season’s heroics were no fluke.

The 29-year-old led the Wild, who were sitting 12th in the Western Conference at the time of his trade from Arizona, to a third consecutive playoff berth.

Dubnyk made 39 appearances with Minnesota, including 38 consecutive starts, finishing with a 27-9-2 record to go along with five shutouts, a 1.78 G.A.A. and a .936 save percentage.

“It was nothing crazy, nothing extravagant. I’m a pretty simple goalie the way I play,” Dubnyk told the Star Tribune at the time of his signing. “The way we played as a group, there weren’t any miracles happening out there. We were playing the right way and for myself it was just being simple and strong and keeping goals tight. I wasn’t doing back flips out there and doing stuff that I’m not capable of continuing to do.

“I’m only 29 years old. I’m fully planning on continuing to get better as I go here.”

His spectacular season won him the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and saw him finish third in voting for the Vezina Trophy.

Head coach Mike Yeo is expecting a similar performance this season from the veteran goaltender.

“I’m going to ask the same of him that we asked from him last year when we made the trade for him,” coach Mike Yeo told NHL.com. “Obviously his numbers were heroic. What he did was, looking back on it, may seem heroic, but we asked him not to come in and try to be a hero.

“We didn’t need him to be a savior for our team. We needed him to do his job really well and we knew that we had a group that could play a good game in front of him to give him the support that he needed. It clicked.”

Dubnyk led the Wild to a six-game upset of the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs stopping 66 of the final 68 shots he faced in the series. However, he went 0-4 with a 2.81 G.A.A. and a .901 save percentage in the four-game sweep at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round.

“He’s entering the prime of his career. He’s had some good seasons (with the Edmonton Oilers) and had a great season this year,” GM Chuck Fletcher told the Star Tribune per NHL.com. “We’re not asking him to duplicate what he did this year every year. Maybe that’s not realistic, but we believe he can be a good goaltender in this league. He’s right at the stage of his career where he’s ready to take off.”

Related: Wild ’15-16 Outlook

Report: Ballard, Leopold leaning towards retirement

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Veteran defensemen Keith Ballard and Jordan Leopold have likely played their final NHL game, according to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune.

A concussion limited Ballard to just 14 games last season. The 32-year-old was the recipient of a Matt Martin hit on Dec. 9, which sent him to hospital. Ballard, who recorded one assist and a minus-3 rating while averaging 12:03 in ice time, is still not 100 percent nearly nine months later.

“I’m just trying to get healthy,” Ballard said. “If I make a full recovery from this one, I’ll chalk it up to good luck. But I admit, if I’m hit like this again, I’m a little freaked out about what would happen the next time.”

Ballard’s two-year, $3 million contract expired in July and he remains an unrestricted free agent. The Minnesota native appeared in 604 career NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks and Wild.

Leopold, a fellow unrestricted free agent, doesn’t have his agent making calls to teams.

Leopold, who was dealt by the Blue Jackets to the Wild in March at the request of his daughter, appeared in 18 games with Minnesota last season registering one assist and a plus-1 rating while averaging 13:19 a night in ice time.

Russo reports that Leopold and his wife are in the process of opening an events and wedding center on the Bluffs of the Mississippi.

Neither player has formally announced their retirement.

Related: It’s Minnesota Wild day at PHT

Wild ’15-16 Outlook

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When looking at the Minnesota Wild, it’s easy to see their potential, but without making any major additions over the summer, are they in a position to get past the second round for the first time since 2003?

To a decent extent, Minnesota’s fate rests on Devan Dubnyk’s shoulders. This is a team that was in a free fall when he was acquired and his stellar play helped right the ship. Minnesota doesn’t necessarily need him to win the Vezina Trophy, but if he struggles mightily, as he did in 2013-2014, then Minnesota could be in serious trouble. Of course Darcy Kuemper and perhaps even Niklas Backstrom could step up to fill the void in that scenario, but Backstrom is 37 years old with a history of injuries while Kuemper is coming off of an erratic campaign.

Part of the reason why so much rides on Dubnyk though is because Minnesota’s offense hasn’t been anything to write home about. Which is a shame because in theory, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and Mikko Koivu should make for a great core and when you throw in promising youngsters like Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle, the potential is there for the Wild to be more than a middle of the road team when it comes to offensive production.

That’s what they were last season though, in part because Koivu regressed while Granlund, Niederreiter, and Coyle weren’t able to make meaningful offensive improvements compared to their 2013-14 campaigns. Perhaps that will change this season though and if it does, that would certainly take some of the pressure off of the Wild’s goaltending.

As far as their defense goes, Ryan Suter is expected to once again play in nearly half of every game. Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, and Jonas Brodin are projected to make major contributions too, but the X-factor is 21-year-old Matt Dumba as he should play a bigger role in his sophomore campaign after being limited to 15:00 minutes per contest last season.

The makings of a contender are there. It’s just a question of if everyone will click this time around.