This is the second in a two part blog covering the Wild's 2013-2014. Part I talked about the team's trouble with injuries and goaltenders and part II (below) analyzes the impact of young Wild talent.
The Wild’s roster was filled with young players in 2013, some the fan base has heard about for years and others that have flown under the radar. Justin Fontaine, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, Jonas Brodin, and Jared Spurgeon all played significant roles in the team’s success (or lack thereof) throughout the season.
Jared Sprugeon, the “veteran” of the group, had only played in parts of the previous three seasons. Jason Zucker made his NHL debut in 2011, Jonas Brodin and Charilie Coyle jumped onto the scene during the lockout shortened season of last year, and Nino Niederreiter was acquired in an offseason trade that sent fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck to New York.
When Erik Haula joined the team early in the season due to the many injuries the Wild had endured. He immediately proved that he belongs in the NHL. His spot on the third and fourth lines became secure after the Wild lost veteran enforcer Zenon Konopka on waivers to the Buffalo Sabres. When second line center Mikael Granlund suffered an injury during a pivotal road trip west Haula was moved into that role and showed why he was the leading scorer for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers for the past two season.
The least known player of the group was Justin Fontaine, although fans of his alma mater in Duluth had surely heard of him. Wild fans were probably the most familiar with energetic playmaker and top-prospect Mikael Granlund, who showed that his subpar play last year was an aberration.
The outstanding play of these young players showed that this year’s playoff run, even though it ended abruptly, may be something Wild fans can get used to for years to come.
Peter Ripka is the co-host of the Rambling On podcast. He's a blogger and analyst who specializes in sports, particularly hockey and baseball. Reach him via email or find him on Facebook and Twitter.