Zeke Boyat is a contributor for Hockey Wilderness which has for a long time been one of the best sites covering the Minnesota Wild. When we put out a call for a Wild writer to answer some pressing questions for us, Zeke quickly jumped all over the chance and gave us some great insight into a team the Jets grew to be very familiar with last season.
Make sure you check out Zeke’s work – almost fittingly under the username “Wild.Nation” over at HockeyWilderness.com, and give him a follow on Twitter. Also, be on the lookout for a new podcast that he will be a part of coming out soon.
JN – Injuries really hit the Wild hard last season. Is there a sense from Wild fans that if the team could just stay healthy – or at least healthier – that their regular season successes could translate to playoff victories?
Zeke – This is a really good question, I would say it’s kind of a 50/50 split in the fanbase. There is the one 50% of the fans that are always optimistic, always believing they have a chance to go far in the playoffs. They do make sense because of the massive injuries the Wild got hit with last year. Then there is the other 50% of the fans who are not as optimistic about their chances of going on a run even if they are completely/nearly healthy. They’re in a “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode, which does also make sense given their inability to get past the 1st round the past 3 seasons. I’m more in the middle, I think if they can stay healthy they’ll be a playoff team that has the potential to go on a run. But on the other hand, the playoffs have ended the same way for 3 years for this team so it’s hard to believe it will be any different. Especially if they have to go through one of or BOTH Winnipeg and Nashville. The big wild card is if Ryan Suter is up to 100%(which by all reports he is) you all saw how the Jets just rolled over the Wild with no Suter and Spurgeon playing at 50%, so they NEED him to be healthy.
JN – Despite the talk of changes needed with the Wild, the only major move -outside of a few depth sightings – done over the summer was the firing of General Manager Chuck Fletcher who was replaced by Paul Fenton. Was more change than that expected at all? Did more change need to happen?
Zeke – When Owner Craig Leipold decided to not renew GM Chuck Fletcher’s contract, he said that the team was good, but just wasn’t good enough to go deep in the playoffs. The word “tweaks” was thrown around a lot after Paul Fenton was hired and many reports indicated that it was very likely Fenton would be pulling of a big move. Which he almost did in the reported Niederrieter+Zucker+Ennis to Arizona for Domi and Dvorak (which frankly would not have been a good trade for the Wild) but the Coyotes turned it down. So I would say Wild fans expected a significant trade of one of the core pieces of the team, to try and shake things up a bit in hopes of getting further in the playoffs. While it probably could’ve helped to make some changes, Fenton said other teams were “low-balling” him and trying to take advantage of the rookie GM by trading players for less then their worth, so I think it makes sense to go into the season and let Fenton see what he has and then decided to make a move later on. Whether that is adding a piece closer to the deadline if they are in playoff position, or if they aren’t a guy like Eric Staal could be on the move at the deadline to a contending team.
JN – Guys like Parise, Staal and Granlund will be key for the Wild yet again this season, but is there anyone that can take that next step to being a key contributor for the Wild offence? Can players like Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway be those guys?
Zeke – I think Greenway and Erikkson Ek, like you said could have good season and really help out the depth on the Wild. Coach Bruce Boudreau has made it clear he is a big fan of those guys as players, so they will get plenty of opportunities to succeed. Frankly, the Wild will need them to be good enough if they want to go on a run this season, you cant always rely on the older guys like Koivu, Parise, and Staal. Another guy that could have a big bounce back year to contribute to the team is Charlie Coyle. After having 56 points I’m 82 games played in 2016-2017, he only had 37 points (11 goals 26 assists) in 66 games played, albeit it was revealed he broke both of his wrists mid season, he still was not all that great when healthy. He has a history of being a very streaky scorer, so it he can get more consistency to his game and start to use his big 6’3 frame more, he could he a real big contributor to the Wild as a power forward with some real offensive prowess when he is at the top of his game.
JN – Are there any Wild prospects or young talent that perhaps regular hockey fans aren’t aware of, but that have Minnesota hockey fans excited?
Zeke – While some people may have heard may about him, Russian forward Kirill Kaprizov, who was drafted 135th overall in the 2015 Draft. He has put up back to back 40 points seasons in the KHL as a 19-20 and a 20-21 year old, having numbers rivaling or better than guys such as Kuznetsov/Tarasenko/Panarin/etc. He also had 12 points in 7 games at the World Juniors in 2017 for team Russia, and he also scored the gold medal winning goal for Team OAR at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, along with an excellent performance at the World Championships. This guy is by far the best Wild prospect, and one of the top 10 or so prospects in the entire league. While being smaller at 5″9-5″11, he has great hands and puck/shooting skills, and is not afraid to get physical and go to the dirty areas. Unfortunately, he signed a 2 year extension with CSKA Moscow of the KHL last summer, so he wont be with the team this season, we will have to wait until the 2020-2021 season to see him in a Wild Uniform. The wait will be well worth it though, because this guy is the best and most exciting wild prospect since Marian Gaborik, and has a legit chance to become the best player in team history. Kaprizov is just the type of an elite offensive game breaker the Wild are missing and he will be a HUGE addition when he comes over here in 2020.
JN – Do we have a real rivalry yet between our two teams? It doesn’t feel like there is any real disdain or dislike between the clubs or fan bases. Are we all just too Manitoba Friendly and Minnesota Nice?
Zeke – To be honest, there has not been enough time/playoff series (especially close series) to really cultivate a rivalry between the two teams. The ingredients are certainly there for a rivalry though, geographical location/fans traveling well/etc, but there will need to be an intense playoff series or two to get it going. I also honestly just think that the people and fans in Minnesota and up in Winnipeg/Manitoba are genuinely nice people, I experienced this upfront at game 3 of the 1st round in Minnesota with the several Jets fans I ran into/or met. They were all very nice about the game/etc and just talking hockey. In the end, we are all hockey fans who love the game of Hockey, and it just doesn’t make sense to fight over wins and losses when we all have the same common interest and passion