Coming off a disappointing 2009-2010 season, the Minnesota Wild hope to be better this year, but they'll need a lot of internal improvement to get back into the playoff picture.
Wild players aren't typically productive enough to warrant serious fantasy consideration. There are some notable exceptions, but many fall into the depth or sleeper category.
Centre Mikko Koivu signed a lucrative contract extension in the offseason and while some make a big deal that he's never scored more than last year's 22 goals, Koivu has also increased his points per game every year he's been in the league, reaching a career-best 71 last year.
Minnesota's other marquee talent up front is Martin Havlat, who started miserably after signing a free agent deal last summer, but 46 points in his last 54 games helped salvage the season. If he can continue his recent run of good health (154 games over last two seasons), Havlat could be a candidate for a bounceback campaign.
Aside from that duo, however, the options aren't particularly exciting. Veteran winger Andrew Brunette is as durable as they come, missing three games over the last eight seasons, and 61 points on left wing isn't all too common, but Brunette is also 37, which could bring a decline in his production, and his notoriously clean style of play (under 20 penalty minutes in three straight seasons) hinders his value somewhat for fantasy. He's still worth a depth spot in most leagues.
Guillaume Latendresse exploded upon arriving in Minnesota from Montreal last year, scoring 25 goals in 55 games. Not to be too cynical, but until he does it over a full season, there will be questions about whether he's any better than the 40 points he tallied last season.
Returning home as a free agent, Minnesota native Matt Cullen has been a productive player, always falling between 41 and 49 points in the last five seasons, but that's not enough to warrant serious consideration at centre. In deep leagues or when he's riding a hot streak, perhaps, but not much more than that.
Limited to just one game due to a serious concussion last year, Pierre-Marc Bouchard had 63 points two years ago, so he has potential to pile up points, but until he shows he's healthy, he's a risky pick best left for the late rounds.
Similarly, defenceman Brent Burns could be a contributor, but concussion woes have hampered him in back-to-back seasons, so until he shows he's healthy, his recent history makes Burns a risk-reward type of selection.
Power play quarterback Marek Zidlicky will have some appeal, as he's surpassed 40 points in five of his six NHL seasons, but he's also a minus-28 over the last two years, so that mitigates his appeal to some degree. Surprisingly, Zidlicky puts up relatively high penalty minute totals (442 PIM in 461 career games), which does help his fantasy value.
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom struggled along with many of his teammates last season, so the Wild have to hope that the 32-year-old Finn can get back to his previous form; Backstrom posted a save percentage of .920 or better in his first three seasons, before dropping to .903 last season.
If he's on, Backstrom could be a low-end No. 1 or good No. 2 fantasy goaltender.
Minnesota Wild Projected Depth Chart
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.