An important offseason for the Wild gains steam this week with the NHL draft, which will soon be followed by free agency. Trades could happen any time during this stretch as well.
Given those parameters and that the Wild is coming off missing the postseason after six consecutive years in the playoffs, is there a strategy emerging for next season and beyond?
First take: Michael Rand
Everything GM Paul Fenton said in talking to the media Friday pointed toward a multiyear roster building plan instead of a one-year fix. He spoke happily about the eight picks the Wild has in next week’s draft after years of trading away picks, likening it to restocking a cupboard.
He also indicated a comfort level with the current roster even as he continues to seek upgrades and changes. Fenton would never say it — and in fact he downplayed the idea when I asked if this team needs to take a step back to take steps forward — but it feels like the Wild is really gearing up for 2020-21 and beyond.
The big question is how much of a step the Wild’s young forwards can take next year.
Wild writer Sarah McLellan: That might be the best indicator of what to expect from the Wild in 2019-20 — even regardless of what other roster moves the team makes this summer.
The emphasis on youth has only expanded since the trade deadline, with the acquisitions of forwards Ryan Donato, Kevin Fiala and Nico Sturm giving the 25-and-under crowd more opportunity to impact results.
There were encouraging signs last season, such as Donato’s release, Jordan Greenway’s strength on the puck barreling down the wing and Joel Eriksson Ek’s poise when given more responsibility up the middle. But evolution in the NHL isn’t always linear. How the Wild braces for potential growing pains could be key since a strong supporting cast still seems important for a team trending younger.
Rand: A reboot around young forwards isn’t a bad strategy given how NHL players tend to ascend starting around age 24.
Kirill Kaprizov could be elite if and when he arrives for the 2020-21 season. Donato had 16 points in 22 games after arriving via trade. Fiala scored 23 goals two seasons ago. Green-way, Luke Kunin and Eriksson Ek all showed promise last season.
But even Fenton acknowledges there are a lot of “ifs” in that group, and any optimistic projection requires us to ignore either inconsistency or uncertainty.
That said, trying to remake this roster on the fly without a drawn-out rebuild might make the most sense in this market.
McLellan: An approach like that also fits with the current landscape of the NHL. The Stanley Cup champions were in last place almost midway through the season. Sure, many expected the Blues to be a contender after a busy offseason that included adding eventual Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly and center Tyler Bozak. But it took a torrid second half and terrific postseason for St. Louis to ultimately realize its potential, a Cinderella run that makes the rags-to-riches transformation seem doable.
That’s not to say improvement is a given for a team like the Wild, but preaching progress rather than patience wouldn’t be unusual in a league where five different teams have won the last six Cups.
Rand: If the Wild is really preaching progress, I know a 27-year-old forward who scored 33 goals two years ago. His name is Jason Zucker.
Final word: McLellan
What Zucker’s future looks like could certainly preview the Wild’s outlook. That and other clues should be arriving soon.
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
More Hine: startribune.com/NorthScore