Mile High Sticking Central Division Power Rankings — Preseason Debut!

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Sep 29, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise (11) looks on during the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Penguins 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild. They play in the great state of hockey, yet since they joined the league in 1997 they have never been able to call themselves an elite team. The Wild went out and spent $196 million dollars on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the summer of 2012, with hopes that the pair could elevate the team to that elite status. The plan hasn’t worked.

The Wild are a very good team, and have a dynamic young Finnish forward who goes by the moniker of Mikael Grandlund. Avs fans will remember the beautiful overtime goal he scored in last year’s playoff series. The Wild have a reputation of being a clog the ice trap style of team, who is boring to watch and play against. While they have incorporated a more fluid and aggressive style to an extent of late, they still are a team that returns to their roots. They were able to effectively shut down the Avalanche through the neutral zone, and take control of that series.

In round two, the Blackhawks showed that the Wild still aren’t a top team. Although they bested the Avs in the playoffs, I don’t think the Wild have the offensive weapons to keep up with Colorado or Dallas this season. St. Louis does what Minnesota tries to do better, and Chicago is in a class of their own.

Last Season: 98 pts – Wildcard – Lost second round

Prediction: 94 pts

Team Strength: Ryan Suter

Suter is the most relied upon player in the NHL. He averaged 29 minutes and 24 seconds of ice time per game last season – a full 2 minutes and 20 seconds more than the closest competition. The Wild use Suter in all situations – even-strength, penalty killing, power play, and he excels in all areas.

The Wild defense is pretty pedestrian and maybe even below average, but the fact that Suter is able to play a half an hour a night really hides a lot of their depth issues on the blueline. MVP goes to players who post gaudy stats, but I really think that Suter is the player that is most critical to his team’s success.

Team Weakness: Goaltending

The Wild used five goaltenders last season, but looked to be getting stud Josh Harding back this year. Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a couple years back, and missed significant time last season. He decided to break his foot kicking a wall this off-season, so he isn’t in the mix to see time in net for the Wild any time soon.

The Wild will roll with the duo of Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Keumper this season. Backstrom was below the 0.900 save percentage line last season in 21 games, and Keumper is relatively unproven. Things may work out, but the Wild certainly are shaky in their goaltending situation heading into the season.