Welcome to West Division Wednesdays, where we each week we will take a look at one of the Checkers' division rivals. The focus this week is on the Iowa Wild, affiliate of the Minnesota Wild.
Iowa’s biggest struggle last season was their inability to put pucks in the net, as their 169 goals scored was the lowest total in the league. They lack a top offensive threat, evidenced by being one of only four teams without a 20-goal scorer this past season. Top producer Zack Phillips, a first-round pick in 2011, is believed to possess the ability to score at the AHL level, but is still looking for a breakout season
, and may be counted on to take a big step this year and carry the offensive load in Iowa. Veteran journeyman Brad Winchester, who was acquired mid-season in the deal that sent Brian Connelly to Chicago, was enjoying a solid offensive year with Rockford, but stalled out upon joining the Wild and was unable to yield the same numbers. With much of the young talent sticking with a surprising Minnesota squad, Iowa will rely on incoming rookies to produce immediately. Zack Mitchell put up nice numbers in the OHL and has been pegged as a "skilled finisher,"
while Brady Brassart will look to build on his late season stint with Iowa. If retained, longer-tenured players like Warren Peters and Carson McMillan will need to step up their offensive game to give Iowa more options, along with former Checkers captain Brett Sutter, who could add a strong, veteran presence to the team.
The NHL Wild have holes in their defensive corps that need filling, and more than likely they will insert their young prospects into those positions. Players like Matthew Dumba, Gustav Olofsson, and Guillaume Gelinas all should have a shot at cracking the NHL lineup
, and while this could spell good things for Minnesota, who has a solid track record of young players making an impact right away, it may hurt Iowa’s chances of winning. Iowa will rely on more defensemen like Jonathon Blum, who led Wild defensemen in goals (7), and Corbin "The Gravedigger"
Baldwin, who led last season’s team in penalty minutes as a rookie.
The Minnesota organization is stocked with talent in the goaltender department, but they have had all kinds of issues keeping them healthy, and the instability hasn’t helped Iowa’s cause, with six different goalies appearing in net. It seems as though the formidable pair of Johan Gustafsson and John Curry will shoulder the load for Iowa this year
, but that could all change depending on Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom’s health. Should Iowa get a full year out of Gustafsson or Curry, goaltending could be the team’s strongest aspect.
The young nature of Minnesota’s team makes it hard to judge how the AHL squad will look, as a lot of the young talent could get the chance to make an impact at the NHL level. But regardless of what their final roster ends up being, Iowa needs to find some offensive firepower in order to improve on last season.