Getting to our first of six matchups that include a Canadian team, the Canucks have taken a long, painful road to get to where they are after moving on from the Sedin era. The Wild have gone through a bit of a retool themselves, especially their front office where new GM Bill Guerin is starting to put his stamp all over this team.
The Canucks are finally starting to round the corner to reap the rewards of their rebuild. The team has a very strong nucleus of young talent up front, drafting guys like captain Bo Horvat, Pettersson and Boeser. Jim Benning deserves some credit for a couple of solid trades this season, picking up JT Miller before the season and following that up with Tyler Toffoli at the trade deadline. Their bottom six has a lot of veteran presence, most of whom have made a deep playoff push or won a Stanley Cup in their careers.
Minnesota was a team that seemed destine for a lottery pick at the start of the season but the team managed to turn things around and get themselves into the Return to Play. This team is lead by veterans like Koivu, Parise, Staal, Zuccarello and Zucker but this team really turned a corner when Kevin Fiala discovered another level to his game. The Wild could have really benefited from the addition and Kaprizov, but they still have some youth in guys like Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek who should provide this team with a spark.
The Canucks have way too much talent for the Wild to keep up with, this is an easy decision for me.
The Canucks have a well built blue line starting off with established team leader Alex Edler. Recent free agent signing Tyler Myers may not have had his best season but he is still a reliable shut down defenseman and makes a strong top pair with Edler. Add in Chris Tanev and Jordie Benn for some veteran leadership to help out some of the young talent like Troy Stecher, recently signed Jack Rathbone and Calder nominee Quinn Hughes. Hughes has added an offensive element from the backend that the Canucks have never really had and it is paying dividends especially on the Power Play where he QBs the first unit.
Defense is by far the biggest strength of the Wild team led by one of the best foundation defenseman in the league, Ryan Suter. The Wild wasted no time developing an impressive group around him, Spurgeon, Dumba and Brodin are incredibly underrated because their skills have been overshadowed by poor goaltending. They play an incredibly sound defensive game keeping the opposition to the outside, which may hide just how bad their goaltending issues have really been this season.
When comparing the two, the edge goes to the Wild, their top four will play a lot of minutes and be relied upon to do a lot of the heavy lifting but this is a very close vote, the Quinn Hughes factor cannot be ignored.
This category isn’t even close, Markstrom should be considered a top 10 goalie without question (top 5 may be pushing it a bit) but his numbers over the past few seasons do not reflect that. His analytical numbers and frankly just the eye test have both been impressive despite not having the surface stats to back up this claim. I have mentioned in previous articles, the Canucks are ready to start winning which should finally start garnering him the attention he deserves.
The best goalie in the Wild’s system wasn’t even on the roster this season. Kaapo Kahkonen is one of the best goalies in the AHL and the future in nets for this team but that does not help them right now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get in the net during this series and possibly win one game as an incredible story but this is too much of a burden to put on a guy like that. Neither Dubnyk nor Stalock have shown this season that they are capable of being a consistent starter, putting even more pressure on the defense.
The Canucks have one of the best Power Play units in the league and they are a lot of fun to watch. Their top unit is the fifth best group in the league (see Florida’s Special Teams) and the Canucks as a whole were the fourth best in the league operating at a 24.2% success rate. On the Penalty Kill, the Canucks managed to kill off 80.5% off their penalties which was middle of the pack. As a general rule of thumb, if your Special Teams add up to 100 or higher, you are doing something right.
The Wild may have trailed the Canucks by nine Power Play Goals on the season but they still had a top 10 Power Play (21.3%). This team is led by their big names as Suter, Parise and Fiala all tied for the team lead with 18 points on the Power Play, Parise led the way with 12 goals. The Wild struggled on the Penalty Kill giving up the seventh most goals against, only managing to kill off 77.2% of their penalties. Despite being the best team in the league at keeping shots to the outside, the Canucks have more than enough shooters to be able to score from anywhere so the Wild will want to stay out of the box (not that they planned otherwise).
Vancouver Canucks: Brock Boeser
For whatever reason Brock Boeser trade rumours became a topic of conversation in Vancouver right as the players were returning for Phase 3 of the NHL’s RTP. It was very evident that he was not happy which is why I put him in the X-Factor spot because his reaction to these rumours and how it affects his play on the ice can have a tilting factor in this series. Boeser is the best natural goals scorer and has arguably the best shot release on the Canucks roster. If he becomes a shell of himself it will hurt this team, however, if he can use this as motivation to get himself going to quiet the critics, the Wild are in trouble. I’m betting on the latter.
Minnesota Wild: Jonas Brodin
It cannot be emphasized enough how important the play of the Wild’s top 4 defenseman will be and Brodin is a very important player at 5on5. All but one of Brodin’s points came at full strength and he has a +15 rating (yes I know, bad stat) which is only significant because of how much time he plays at even strength. With less penalties called in the playoffs there will be a premium placed on even strength play and I fully expect Brodin’s ice team to increase meaning his impact on the game will need to follow suit. If Brodin can shut down the opponent’s top lines with his strong defensive game, it will give the Wild a chance to win.
Forward – Canucks
Defense – Wild
Goaltender – Canucks
Special Teams – Canucks
X-Factor – Canucks
Winner: (7) Vancouver Canucks in 3
Bold? Maybe, but picking 4 and everyone once in a while 5 games is boring, lets spice things up! I have a lot of concerns in net for the Wild and the Canucks have the firepower to be able to expose this weakness. Minnesota will be forced to rely too much on their defense and they will be in tough to keep pace with the Canucks on the scoreboard as they will be going up against a very underrated Jacob Markstrom.