Last season this time, a few days away from training camp, just weeks away from the first preseason game, and about a month away from the start of the season and the real hockey games that matter, it was all about a thing. A hyperfocus on Kirill Kaprizov and what he could really bring to the NHL and the Minnesota Wild.
No one Real After pondering whether or not this team would perform, it all revolved around a young dude who finally found his way into North American hockey five years after being called up. Has anyone really thought about the composition of the blue line? Goalkeeping? What can Ryan Hartman bring to this team? I mean, sure. For those who are trying to work their way through every analysis and tear this team apart tooth and nail to discover what they really are, I’m sure they’ve been thinking of Nico Sturm. But for those who just want to see the overarching arc of a Wild storyline, it was all Kirill.
What he did at training camp, who he hung out with, how damn sick he looked in the practice jerseys, it was all about him and no one can blame anyone for focusing only on what he can do on the ice. He’s so damn special, but this is now his second year (after signing his new contract) and a team’s honeymoon period and its new star are softening; a muted, underlying excitement not expressed outwardly as adamantly as it was before the 2020-21 season.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love this damn team and its quirky approach to the game of hockey. But now it’s a little more regular to see an All-World talent on this team, and we’re spending our time looking forward to other prospects’ debuts and the supporting cast doing what they can.
I won’t specifically mention Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi as we all know how exciting they are as forwards who can take the team out of training camp and leave us on the edge of our seats during a pointless preseason game. But the general expectation of the meaning of this Wild team has changed and I am not in the right position to determine what is right and what is wrong. The great thing about following a team is enjoying the ride and if you’re disappointed it can sweeten the later cycle of wins. But again, this is Minnesota.
Last season we were all completely beside ourselves when the Wild became the main focus for a few weeks of the season. It was definitely Kaprizov who drew the neutral eyes, but this team was on the rise and at one point competed with the juggernaut Colorado avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights for first place in the division, leaving the rest of the teams completely alone and naked and scared.
It was a great time and shortly after they crumbled under the weight of slightly more expectations and were brought back to Earth for a bit. Still, they have incredible talent across the lineup, so it’s just hard to really determine what we want and expect from them during this massive transition season.
It’s not like they’re contenders out of nowhere or pushing their way to a top pick. The Wild are in the middle where they have Real good players in their late twenties and a burgeoning young core of prospects who will slowly work their way up the lineup so we can enjoy the show. They’re not there yet, but some are sure to debut this season and it just goes to show that this is still a team looking to establish its young players for long-term success.
Should we have expectations? Sure, and of course I can’t control what everyone thinks or should think. If you want the Wild in the Stanley Cup Final, all the strength to you (and I wish I had your optimism). But we can only expect the current core to continue what they’ve been doing for a while. Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba will do a great job patrolling the blue line and the young talents of Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek and Kaprizov will lead this mid-timeline to keep the older guys in check. Small groups of age groups that will carry this team and at least invest us in looking at what they can do.
This season is going to be a weird season that is full of those debuts and little expectations for guys who will be here for several years. There’s pressure to just be competitive, of course, but nothing overpowering that defines the whole season. If they don’t even make it through the ‘postseason’ we can still sit back and accept that this team has a decent future ahead of them with the players they have in a certain age group and will always keep trying to at least make it. to attempt. And that’s what makes the Wild a special team in this regard. It is the beautiful peaceful landscape of the middle way.
Regardless of the calm feeling when it comes to the overall story, we can still expect the minor improvements. The development of the young players, the stability of the already-here core, and the not-quite-shattering-the-bed of the older boys. There’s just no way we can’t have those hopeful assumptions that those players will put together a solidifying season that puts them in the Future Contenders category to store and keep precious.
I think next year is where it really kicks in, but this one is still up in the air with the small, thoughtful expressions of concern for small details. But maybe I’m just a weird sick man overthinking things.
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