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Cullen: Newcomers need to make instant impact for Wild

Scott Cullen
9/14/2011 11:43:16 AM
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Even with a summer shake-up, the Minnesota Wild figure to be fighting an uphill battle this season, unless the newcomers make a major impact.

Following a season in which he finished with 64 points in 80 games, the lowest point-per-game total (.80) of his career, and an underwhelming playoff, Dany Heatley finds himself with a new team and a chance at a fresh start. At 30-years-old, Heatley will have to show up in better shape and motivated to get back to his previous levels of production. Heatley currently ranks fifth (behind Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby and Teemu Selanne) with 0.49 goals per game in his career. If he lives up to that for the Wild, it will be a successful bounceback season.

If Heatley is going to rediscover his scoring touch, it will likely be due in part to the playmaking ability of Mikko Koivu, who has recorded at least 45 assists in three consecutive seasons, but could see a production bump if Heatley is playing at an appropriate level.

Another newcomer that stands to benefit from his surroundings, Devin Setoguchi, may start the season alongside Koivu and Heatley and the chance to play with prime linemates and perhaps see more ice time than 15 minutes per game could turn Setoguchi loose and make him closer to a 30-goal scorer (as he was in 2008-2009) than a 20-goal scorer, which he has been in the two seasons since.

Now that Brent Burns is gone to San Jose, the Wild will definitely need production from defenceman Marek Zidlicky, the only blueliner on the team to have recorded more than 20 points in an NHL season. Injuries hampered Zidlicky last season, but he's usually durable and picks up quite a few penalty minutes (for leagues that count those), but he's also been a minus player for each of the last four seasons.

If the Wild are going to surprise this season, they probably need goaltender Niklas Backstrom to play even better than he did last season, when he turned in an above average .916 save percentage. As a 33-year-old, playing for a team with questionable support, Backstrom isn't likely to be anything more than a fantasy backup but, considering the number of starts he's expected to get, could still provide value.

If there is a sleeper candidate among the Wild, maybe the best option would be Guillaume Latendresse, the power forward who scored 25 goals in 55 games with the Wild in 2009-2010, but was limited to just 11 games last year, thanks to a lingering groin injury. If he's playing on Minnesota's second line, that's not an ideal spot to put up numbers, but Latendresse is worth late-round consideration because he's capable of a 30-goal season and there aren't a great many wingers that have that ability.

A feel-good story last season, after he missed more than a year due to a concussion, Pierre-Marc Bouchard is a skilled playmaker who put up 32 points in 45 games from January on last season. His fantasy value tends to take a hit because of low penalty minute totals, but Bouchard is another player with offensive upside that deserves a look.

Coming off last year's career-best 19 goals and 34 points, Cal Clutterbuck can't be ignored in deep leagues, particularly since he contributes about a penalty minute per game, but it does look like he's outside the top six forwards and that limits his upside. Same goes for Kyle Brodziak, who had a stretch in the second half of the season during which he scored 20 points in 21 games. That might give him some sleeper upside but, for now, he seems to be behind Matt Cullen on the depth chart.

Cullen finished with fewer than 40 points last season for the first time since 2003-2004, but still managed 21 power play points, so his presence on the power play, combined with some decent wingers does give him upside for deep leagues.

Among the Wild prospects, perhaps a defenceman like Marco Scandella could make an impact at some point during the season. There aren't great scoring forwards in the pipeline and, considering the limited puck-moving skills on the blueline, Scandella might be able to make the jump to a full-time role after playing 20 games for the Wild last season.

There is certainly talent on the roster, so the Wild shouldn't be abandoned altogether but, barring some exceptional seasons, it doesn't look like the Wild are poised for a playoff spot.

NHL Depth Chart - Minnesota Wild

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.

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