Fantasy Puck Preview: Minnesota Wild

Scott Cullen

9/17/2009 10:18:27 AM

The Minnesota Wild promise to play a more up-tempo style now that head coach Jacques Lemaire has moved on, which may present an opportunity for players to provide more fantasy value than they have in recent seasons.

Newcomer Martin Havlat is coming off the best season of his career, tallying 77 points in 81 games with Chicago, but it was the first time since 2001-2002 that he played more than 70 games in a season. Havlat is a productive player, one that can challenge a point-per-game pace, but it's all a matter of how many games he plays.

Minnesota's best all-around player, Mikko Koivu, led the team with 67 points last season, including 26 with the man advantage. Koivu has steadily improved throughout his NHL career and the 26-year-old may still have another level to reach, though that could depend on the effectiveness of his wingers.

After having his worst post-lockout season last year, Pierre-Marc Bouchard will be looking to rebound and a more aggressive offensive gameplan ought to fit in well with his creative play.

Often underrated veteran Andrew Brunette isn't going to score 83 points again (as he did in 2006-2007), but he has outstanding hands, is durable and has put up at least 46 points for nine straight seasons.

37-year-old Owen Nolan had a tremendous season in 2008-2009, when he was healthy, finishing with 25 goals and 45 points in 59 games; his goals-per-game (0.42) was his best mark since 1999-2000. Perhaps it's asking a lot for Nolan to duplicate that production, but he should warrant late-round or waiver wire interest in deeper leagues.

A couple of sleeper candidates among the Wild forwards: third-year centre James Sheppard, who will have an opportunity to win the second-line centre job, and veteran winger Petr Sykora, who has surpassed 20 goals for ten straight seasons and is in camp on a tryout basis.

Power play quarterback Marek Zidlicky has scored more than 40 points -- including at least 10 on the power play -- in four of his five NHL seasons. He's a risk defensively, but a more attacking style of play should help Zidlicky remain productive.

Brent Burns is the Wild's best all-around defenceman, but is coming off a season that was marred by a concussion. Provided he stays healthy, Burns should be much better this season.

Goaltending has been a real strength for the Wild, but it will be interesting to see what kind of effect the new style of play will have on the puckstoppers.

Niklas Backstrom has been sensational in his first three seasons, posting career marks of a 2.24 goals against average and a .923 save percentage along with 17 shutouts. Even if he can't quite match those numbers, Backstrom is a quality starter and, in most leagues, a strong No. 2 fantasy option.

Backup Josh Harding is probably deserving of a chance to start somewhere, but with only 11 starts last season, he's not going to have much fantasy value unless Backstrom gets hurt.