Keys to the 2019-20 season for the Minnesota Wild

Injuries to star players like Matt Dumba and Mikko Koivu, questionable trades by former general manager Paul Fenton and underwhelming performances throughout the season all added up to the Minnesota Wild seeing their six-year playoff streak snapped last spring. How will they respond in the 2019-20 campaign? We’re two games into the season, but there’s a long way to go. Here are a few keys for the Wild if they’re going to bounce back and make the playoffs:

A youth movement

The Wild are among the league’s older teams, but head coach Bruce Boudreau’s lineup should feature a few up-and-coming players regularly. Of the big names — Ryan Donato (23), Jordan Greenway (22) , Luke Kunin (21) and Joel Eriksson Ek (22) — Greenway saw the most action last season, appearing in 81 games, while Donato was a regular after arriving at the trade deadline and Kunin missed time early on while recovering from a torn ACL. Eriksson Ek spent time in Iowa, playing in 58 games with the big club. Of the group only Greenway reached 10 goals, scoring 12. Donato spent time on a line with veterans Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello during the preseason and could be poised for a breakout. Donato led the Wild with 64 shots on goal in 22 games after arriving from Boston last season but shot just 6.3%, well below the league average and his career mark of 11.1%.

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Another 30-goal season from Jason Zucker

Like Donato, Zucker is primed for improvement after shooting just 9.8% a season ago. A career 12.2% shooter, Zucker scored 30 goals for the first time during the 2017-18 season, shooting 14.9%. Now in the second year of a five-year, $27.5 million contract, Zucker remains a solid value at $5.5 million per season, but a return to his 2018 numbers would do wonders for a team that struggled to score last season, averaging just 2.56 goals per game last season, 27th in the NHL.

A full season of Matt Dumba

Dumba was on pace for a career year before a ruptured pectoralis muscle ended his season in December. He finished with 12 goals and 22 points in 32 games, putting him on pace for a 30-goal season. For context, Toronto’s Morgan Reilly led all defensemen with 20 goals last season, while Jared Spurgeon led the Wild’s defensive corps with 12 goals. Those don’t sound like particularly sustainable numbers, but he picked up right where he left off in the Wild’s season opener, scoring their second goal of the season.

Devan Dubnyk gets back on track

The Wild excelled at limiting scoring opportunities last season, finishing eighth in shots on goal per game, but they’ll need a bit more out of their starter. Dubnyk finished with a .915 even-strength save percentage last season, tied for 24th in the NHL and his worst since joining the Wild. He finished eighth with a .926 during the 2017-18 season. Similar production would go a long way towards getting the Wild back into the playoffs this season.

More goals

The Central has long been a gauntlet, and the NHL’s 27th-ranked offense won’t be enough to hang with the likes of Winnipeg, Colorado and the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. The Wild’s defense was a strength last season, but three division rivals — Winnipeg, Colorado and Chicago — averaged more than three goals per game last season. The Wild, meanwhile, struggled to win faceoffs, generate shots and score, situations they’ll need to remedy this season. Zuccarello, signed over the summer, should help after posting four 50-point seasons in six years, while the return of captain Mikko Koivu gives the group a boost in the faceoff circle. Newcomer Ryan Hartman has proven himself as a capable scorer for the bottom six, while Kevin Fiala, acquired last season for Mikael Granlund, scored 23 goals in 2018.