When Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold decided not to renew the contract of General Manager Chuck Fletcher this past spring after a third consecutive loss in the first round of the NHL playoffs, it was taken by many across Minnesota and the hockey world as a sign of significant changes to the Wild’s roster. Then, Paul Fenton was hired as GM of the Wild and rumors and reports of big moves were running rampant. A big trade did not materialize, however, as the Wild decided to stand pat and not make a trade just for the sake of making a trade.
Then, heading into free agency on July 1st, the Wild were not expected to make a splash or sign any significant players (such as John Tavares, James Neal, Paul Stastny, etc.) so they signed several depth players instead. This included defensemen Greg Pateryn on a three-year contract, JT Brown on a two-year contract, Eric Fehr on a one-year deal and Minnesota native Matt Hendricks as well on a one-year deal. While none of those names were very flashy or exciting to Wild fans, the team hoped they’d help provide some energy and skill to the bottom six and third defence pair, and so far to start the 2018-2019 season, they have played very well and exceeded expectations.
While his performance in the preseason made me and other skeptical of his three-year deal, Greg Pateryn has been great on the third defence pair with Nick Seeler, whom has also been very good ever since debuting with the Wild in 2017-2018. Those two guys bring a physical element to the table that this team before never really had, while also being very solid in preventing their opponents from getting too many scoring chances and goals. It’s safe to say that Seeler and Pateryn have been the best third defence pair the Wild have had in several seasons, making it easier for a guy like Ryan Suter to not have to take on large minutes every game.
Another player that has stood out is veteran Eric Fehr. He has been their fourth line center and plays with a hard working edge to his game that can frustrate and agitate his opponents. While he was not expected to produce much on the offensive side of the game, he has actually been pretty good with 2 goals and 4 assists, making for 6 points registered in 16 games played to start the season.
The fourth line has mostly consisted of Marcus Foligno, Eric Fehr and JT Brown to start the season, with Matt Hendricks getting in the lineup when someone else is hurt or not playing well. I already discussed Fehr as seen up above, but line-mates Marcus Foligno and JT Brown have both been very solid on the fourth line to open the regular season. After an up and down first season with the Wild in Minnesota, Foligno has really established himself this year, playing hard and physical, hustling back to help defend and occasionally dropping the gloves to defend or stand up for a teammate.
Brown, a University of Minnesota Duluth alumni and Minnesota native, has shown off his speed this year, which was one of the main selling points of his game in the offseason. While he only has 2 points (1 goal, 1 assist) in 13 games to start the year, he was never expected to score much and instead plays fast and provides some energy to the bottom six, which thus far into the season he has done so fairly well.
Overall, the players listed above have performed very well to start the 2018-2019 season and have played a big part in the Wild’s 10-4-2 record. They most certainly will not have to be relied upon to be “the guys” for this team, but they will be relied upon to play a solid defensive and energetic game if the Wild want to continue their success throughout the regular season and into the Stanley Cup playoffs.