Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How do they line up?

The always-excellent Mike Russo of the Star-Tribune has an excellent analysis of possible Wild line combinations here, as the team prepares for its final preseason game tonight in Philadelphia, and then opens the regular season Friday night in Columbus.

For the first time in several years, the team has a bit of depth at center. The Wild were caught short in December of 2007, when Wes Walz unexpectedly retired, and former GM Doug Risebrough failed to address the center position through two trade deadlines and an entire off-season, which probably contributed to his dismissal last spring.

This year, with the addition of Kyle Brodziak, the Wild will have four legitimate centers in Mikko Koivu, James Sheppard, Brodziak and Eric Belanger. It's also possible that Pierre-Marc Bouchard could move from wing to center, but I like him better at wing, so I hope it doesn't happen.

This is also the first time Wild fans can really engage in this kind of line combo speculation, since Jacques Lemaire very rarely kept lines together for very long. It didn't matter what combo started the game, Jacques was always juggling lines, which was an irritant to some fans - and, reportedly, to some of the players.

(Personally, I never questioned Jacques. My feeling was this: He has 11 Stanley Cup rings, and I have zero. If there's a difference of opinion, always defer to the guy with 11 Cup rings.)

One ancient hockey theory says that a line should have one good playmaker, one good scorer, and one physical forechecker. With that in mind, I think I'd like to see:

1st: Koivu centering Martin Havlat and Owen Nolan.
2nd: Brodziak centering Petr Sykora and Cal Clutterbuck
3rd: Sheppard centering P-M Bouchard and Andrew Brunette
4th: Belanger centering Antti Miettinen and Benoit Puliot

Bouchard and Brunette were together quite a bit last year, and seemed to develop some chemistry. This chart relegates Belanger to the 4th line, and that's unfortunate, because he's a real pro who has done solid work here. But Sheppard has to learn to play: He's 21 now, and the Wild probably made a mistake by keeping him as a 19-year-old instead of letting him develop, but we can't help that now. Another year of 4th-line minutes is going to stifle his development further, and we have too much invested in him to not find out if he can play.

It's been an odd training camp, with a lot of injuries and a team struggling to learn the new Todd Richards system, and I spoke to a number of people at the last preseason game who have very low expectations for this season. I'm usually too optimistic, but I disagree. I think this is a team that can compete every night, and challenge Vancouver for the division title. We'll all start to learn more on Friday.

1 comment:

  1. I'm lusting for a Clutterbuck-Sheppard-Nolan "Take No Prisoners" line.