For the last 14 years (12 with The Hockey News) Dobber has reviewed each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint and graded them.
This year, due to Dobber’s battle with cancer, he recruited Cam Robinson (of Frozen Pool Forensics fame) to pinch hit. The 15th annual review will appear here on DobberHockey throughout the summer. This is not a review of the likely performance on the ice or in the standings, but in the realm of fantasy hockey.
Gone – Jason Pominville, Martin Hanzal, Marco Scandella, Jordan Schoeder, Erik Haula, Alex Tuch, Tyler Graovac, Nate Prosser, Alex Gudbranson, Brady Brassart, Christian Folin, Darcy Kuemper, Louis Nanne.
Impact of changes – After a very strong 2016-17 campaign, the Wild shifted some depth players around and made a trade with Buffalo that cost them Scandella and his capable near-20 minutes a night. This move was completed in order to shirk Pominville’s money off the books and infuse speedy and creative, Tyler Ennis. The 27-year-old, Ennis should find a home amongst the team’s middle six forwards and second power play unit and he should be in line for a nice bounce back after two grueling, injury-plagued and demoralizing seasons. Martin Hanzal leaves after his brief tenure – another example of why deadline splashes rarely work out – but the centre of the ice remains solid. Ryan Murphy comes over from Carolina after never living up to his first-round potential and will hopefully carve out a role with the new organization.
Ready for full-time – Joel Eriksson-Ek, the 20th overall selection from 2015 is ready for a full-time position and was likely ready a season ago. After shining during a nine-game stint to begin the season, recording a goal and four helpers, he was sent back to his native-Sweden to marinate in their top league for one more season and go run wild at the WJC. He returned in March and continued to look strong while seeing just 10 minutes a night. The 20-year-old will look to battle for the third-line centre position, but could find himself anchoring line four or even moving up onto the wing in the top six. He’s a very versatile and intelligent player who has a bright future. Read more on Eriksson-Ek here.
NCAA free agent signee from 2015, Mike Reilly, has steadily been proving himself with the team’s AHL affiliate in Iowa the past two years, earning some brief cups of coffee with the Wild. His 30 points in 57 AHL games last season from the back end are representative of his style of play. A strong puck-mover with a mind of pushing the offense, the 24-year-old signed a two-year agreement with the club this offseason and should have a position amongst the top six defenders come October. Read more on Reilly here.
It’s hard to talk about players who are ready to go without mentioning, Kirill Kaprizov. The high-flying Russian was a 2015 fifth round selection for the Wild but has vastly outkicked his coverage with his play since then. He broke Evgeni Kuznetsov’s U20 scoring record in the KHL last season and led the World Junior Championships in scoring and offensive skills at last winter’s event. He had one season remaining on his prior deal with CSKA which would have enabled him to play in the Olympics before crossing the pond for 2018-19, but chose instead to renegotiate his contract for more money but with an additional two years of service tacked on. So, while the slight and dynamic forward is likely NHL-ready today, Wild fans will have to wait until at least the spring of 2020 to see him live…unless of course he musters up the funds to buy himself out of the new deal, a rare outcome for a player of his stature. Read more on Kaprizov here.
Luke Kunin has all the markings of a future team captain. The 2016 15th overall selection is a terrific two-way player who boasts good speed, smarts and a diligent work ethic. He turned pro last spring after two very successful years at the University of Wisconsin where he promptly put up five goals and eight points in 12 AHL contests. He’ll come to camp pushing for a bottom six job, but some further time in the AHL wouldn’t be a terrible thing. Read more on Kunin here.
Fantasy Outlook – Mikael Granlund finally took the next step that had been long prognosticated last season, jumping up to 69 points. All it took was a swap from centre to captain Mikko Koivu’s wing. Those two should continue to be solid fantasy producers. Eric Staal’s turnaround garnered much attention last season and for good reason. However, he clicked on 13.3 percent of his shots – at least six percent higher than any of the prior three seasons and the highest mark since his 45-goal sophomore season in 2005-06. He could help that likely regression by producing more than just 12 points on the power play. Depth his key on this team, as Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter are very sound pieces, both capable of low-60s production. On the backend, Ryan Suter remains an extremely valuable real life player, but the 32-year-old has recorded less than 44 points in four of the last five seasons. He’s become a depth fantasy piece. Matt Dumba is ready and waiting when the first power play job becomes available but that could still be some time away.
The true asset on this team comes in the way of goaltender, Devan Dubnyk. The once-journeyman has been the backbone for the Wild, posting above-average results with long streaks of dominance.
Fantasy Grade: B- (Last year: C)
Check out the rest of the Fantasy Grades here.
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