Fantasy Puck Preview: Minnesota Wild

Scott Cullen
9/16/2008 10:48:11 AM
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Scoring hasn't exactly been the hallmark of the Minnesota Wild over the years, limiting their fantasy appeal, but there are enough intriguing support players to make them worthwhile.

The one blue-chipper on the roster is Marian Gaborik, whose nearly annual injury woes make him a high-risk fantasy pick, but his production is simply too good to ignore. In 77 games last season, Gaborik tied for seventh in the league with 42 goals and tied for 12th with 83 points. With free agency awaiting at season's end, Gaborik should be motivated to at least match those numbers.

24-year-old Pierre-Marc Bouchard is a slick playmaker who scored a career-high 63 points last season. Signed to a new long-term deal, he'll be counted on to play a prominent role, particularly on the power play.

Another player on the rise for Minnesota is Mikko Koivu, a 25-year-old who continues to improve his all-around game and is about due for a breakthrough offensive campaign.

The Wild also added a couple of veteran free agent wingers in the off-season.

35-year-old Andrew Brunette returns to the Wild after three seasons with the Avalanche and his soft hands should be a welcome addition to the power play.

36-year-old Owen Nolan needs to contribute offensively for the Wild, but he's also coming off a 32-point season, so it's hard to expect a whole lot from him. If he does start scoring, Nolan will have enough penalty minutes to make him viable in deeper leagues.

One position that seems to be up in the air right now is that of second-line centre. While Eric Belanger had a shot in that role last year, he ended up with a typical 37-point season, so the Wild may look to one of their youngsters to take the job.

20-year-old James Sheppard figures to get a look after scoring 19 points in 78 games as a rookie. While that's not an earth-shattering rookie season, Sheppard was an accomplished scorer in junior (180 points in 122 games over his last two seasons) and could take advantage of the opportunity.

While the group of forwards isn't all that impressive, the Wild have upgraded their defence corps so there are a few quality blueliners for fantasy purposes.

Rising star Brent Burns set career highs in goals, assists, points and penalty minutes last season and the 23-year-old should continue to improve as he matures. He's going to miss training camp due to elbow surgery, so he may not start the season at full speed, but Burns will be a high calibre defenceman this season.

The off-season acquisition of Marek Zidlicky should provide an immediate kickstart to the power play. The 31-year-old has topped 30 points in three of his four NHL seasons.

A sleeper candidate along the blueline would be Marc-Andre Bergeron. The high risk defenceman isn't an ideal fit with the defensively-conscious Jacques Lemaire behind the bench, but Bergeron is useful if he's getting power play time, or at least dressing regularly.

In goal, Niklas Backstrom is just a step below the league's premier fantasy puckstoppers, finishing eighth in goals against average (2.31) and tied for sixth in save percentage (.920) last season. Wins might be a tad more difficult to achieve this season, but the rest of his numbers should remain solid.

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