Wild coach Bruce Boudreau hasn’t come up with one or two potential lineups that include new right wingers Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman.
He’s brainstormed 12.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Boudreau said.
The pack of possibilities isn’t just reflective of the Wild integrating new faces.
It’s a nod to the crowded depth chart that existed before the team signed the pair of free agents Monday, additions that only magnify the decisions looming for team brass to finalize the Wild’s look for next season.
“When you can get to a team that has push from within to be able to get your ice time, to solidify where you play in the lineup, that’s the best thing,” General Manager Paul Fenton said. “We’ve been looking for depth. We’ve been trying to get internal competition, and now it’s going to happen.”
With both goalies and seven defensemen returning, those positions don’t appear to be headed for much turnover — if any.
But the forward lines could shake out in several ways, especially after the team brought in Zuccarello on a five-year, $30 million contract and locked up Hartman for two years at $3.8 million.
Zuccarello is primed for the top line, and Boudreau already has considered him a setup man for Zach Parise. In 2018-19, Zuccarello tallied 28 assists among his 40 points while averaging a career-high 19 minutes, 51 seconds in ice time.
“The way that [Zuccarello] competes is going to be contagious for our team,” Fenton said, “and that’s the most important thing for me.”
Lower in the lineup, Boudreau can see Hartman being at the opposite end of a unit with Marcus Foligno — a combination that has the makings of a gritty, checking trio.
How the rest of the spots fill out, though, is where the mystery lies.
Besides Parise and Foligno, Jason Zucker and Jordan Greenway are other left wingers. Kevin Fiala and Ryan Donato are also left shots, but they could be shifted to the right. That would alleviate the logjam at left wing while also filling in the gap between Zuccarello and Hartman on the right side.
J.T. Brown was the team’s fourth-line right winger last season, but he may end up getting bumped from that perch; Luke Kunin is another righty, although he can also play center.
Joel Eriksson Ek has the same flexibility, able to slot up the middle or at left wing.
Eric Staal, captain Mikko Koivu and Victor Rask are the other returning centers, but Koivu is working his way back from a torn ACL and meniscus. And Nico Sturm, who finished last season with the team after turning pro, is expected to vie for a center job.
“I personally think I’m ready to play in the NHL, and I think I can help this team out as a third- or fourth-line center,” said Sturm, who is adjusting his offseason training to prepare for the grind of an 82-game regular season. “That’s my goal. If that wasn’t my goal, there’s no purpose of being here.”
This means 15 forwards could be competing for 12 openings, math that may force the Wild to put player(s) on waivers or send some to the American Hockey League. Sturm, Kunin, Donato and Greenway wouldn’t require waivers to accept that assignment.
Regardless of how the forward spots are occupied, the Wild is poised to have a mix of youth and veterans after getting younger at the trade deadline and acquiring experience in free agency — enhancing the support system for that up-and-coming class.
“We’re easily the deepest that we’ve been here since I’ve got here up front,” Boudreau said.
Although his 500-plus games classify him as a veteran, Zuccarello feels he falls between the older crowd and the youngsters — someone who can complement both groups.
“I feel better than I did five years ago,” said the 31-year-old Zuccarello, who’s 5-8 and 184 pounds. “I’m a small body. It doesn’t take a lot to keep this body in shape.”
Age, games played and past results are all indicators that can shape what to expect out of this revamped Wild roster.
But what will matter most is if the team can assemble itself in a way that it improves.
“As players and as coaches, we have to create an environment of positivity and believing in ourselves,” Zuccarello said. “We didn’t make the playoffs last year, but that’s our goal this year. And I’m sure if we all come together, we’re going to have a good chance of making the playoffs.”