Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Minnesota Wild
Last season: What a difference it makes having a star player. Bereft of elite talent ever since the departure of Marian Gaborik, the five-year wait for Kirill Kaprizov paid off and injected a ton of excitement into Minnesota’s third-most-popular team behind the local college and high school. Kaprizov’s 0.93 P/GP was the fifth-best in franchise history and finished tied for seventh in the league in even-strength goals (19), winning the Calder with 99 of 100 first-place votes.
Thanks to solid goaltending from Cam Talbot and occasionally Kaapo Kahkonen, the Wild managed to finish with the ninth-best points percentage (.670) even with a negative average shot differential and a 24th-ranked power play. GM Bill Guerin saw his team make the playoffs for the first time in three seasons even though they failed to advance past the first round for the sixth straight season. But, hey, they got Kaprizov, and that was gonna be their biggest win all season.
Best option: Kevin Fiala, LW/RW
The answer is obviously Kaprizov, but let’s assume that he’s either not returning to the NHL or has been drafted already. After a breakout 54-point campaign, Fiala was an effective second fiddle to Kaprizov, scoring 40 points in 50 games. He wasn’t as good as he was the season before, but his underlying numbers still suggest he was a very good player; according to naturalstattrick.com, Fiala led all Wild forwards with 55 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 and had the fifth-best 5v5 xGF%, often while having to drag Marcus Johansson and Victor Rask. He’s also shooting the puck more often, ranking 15th in the league with 3.24 shots per game, nearly a 20 percent improvement from the previous season, the Wild clearly recognizing his talent after trading for him from the Predators.
That would put him on pace for well over 250 shots on goal, a milestone that only 20-25 players reach each season and has been accomplished just eight times in franchise history. When it comes to volume, Fiala can offer that up in spades, but actually capitalizing on his chances will require some luck – his career 11 S% is basically the league average – and improved teammates.
Hidden gem: Matt Boldy, LW
The 12th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Boldy turned pro late last season after two years at Boston College, then promptly scored 18 points in 14 games in the AHL, finishing eighth on the team even though he had played less than half the number of games as everyone else. Boldy is projected to score 39 points according to the Pool Guide and, yes, he still has to make the team, but if the Wild staff believe he’s ready, it’s because they think he can score goals right away.
There’s not a lot of depth blocking his way, either, since neither Jordan Greenway nor Marcus Foligno are as good as Boldy with the puck. If Boldy is cut, look at Joel Eriksson Ek, one of the league’s most dependable young players, or even take a shot at Ryan Hartman, who showed good chemistry with both Fiala and Kaprizov. The drawback, as with any winger on the Wild, is their lack of playmaking centers.
Goalies: Talbot was actually a very strong goalie for the Flames even though David Rittich ended up getting more starts and wins. Talbot’s career .915 Sv% ranks 21st (min. 100 GP) since he entered the league and it is further evidence suggesting he’s a pretty good goalie. But, according to naturalstattrick.com, the Wild ranked 29th in 5v5 CF% (46.23) and first in PDO (1.023, ie. good puck luck), and asides from GF/GP (3.21, ninth) – with shooting percentage accounted for in PDO – ranked outside the top 10 in virtually every team category.
Minnesota's offense was predicated upon efficiently capitalizing on whatever few chances they could generate, but in general, was stuck chasing pucks and defending most of the time. That’s going to put a lot of pressure on their goalies; when Talbot and Kahkonen are good, it can work out like it did last season, but when it doesn’t, the Wild simply get blown out; they allowed five or more goals in 12 games last season, around 21 percent of the time.
If Talbot can replicate what he did last season he will once again be a borderline top-10 goalie because it’s such a thin position. Even in the worst-case scenario, the Wild are not expected to be a lottery team, which gives some downside protection. Drafting Kahkonen is a save move should Talbot lose the starting job, but depending on the size of your league, using a draft pick on Kahkonen seems a little wasteful for a goalie who might get added and dropped a few teams over the course of the season.
Outlook: It all depends on Kaprizov, who has yet to re-sign at the time of this writing. If he doesn’t return, all bets are off; they don’t have another elite forward and they’re still missing an elite power-play quarterback. The Central Division is very tough, and on most nights, they’ll have to grind their way to wins. Eriksson Ek, Greenway, Foligno and Hartman are effective players, but none possess the natural skill or talent like Kaprizov and Fiala, and Eriksson Ek’s is slightly miscast as a No. 1 center because his offense probably tops out at around 50 points.
The defense may not improve; they merely swapped Ryan Suter, Ian Cole and Carson Soucy for Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill, though Calen Addison certainly has some offensive upside. The fantasy options beyond Kaprizov, Fiala and Talbot are rather ordinary at best unless Boldy or Marco Rossi make a huge impact, making the Wild’s players more of an afterthought in most fantasy leagues.