Hartman: Contributors many to Wild's recent rise

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 29, 2013 - 12:13 AM

Chuck Fletcher has seen veterans and youngsters alike all chip in and help the team climb the standings.

The Wild lost 3-1 at Calgary on Feb. 23, dropping the team’s record to 8-7-2 through 17 games. The Wild had 18 points and was tied for 10th place in the NHL’s Western Conference.

Since that date, the Wild is 12-3, including a current seven-game winning streak, and has moved into third place in the West and first place in the Northwest Division with 42 points.

The difference has been seen on both sides of the ice. Through the first 17 games, the Wild had scored 37 goals while giving up 42, since then it has scored 53 while allowing only 36 in 15 games. That’s a swing from a minus-5 scoring differential to plus-17.

Of course the additions of Zach Parise, whose 28 points are the second most on the team, and Ryan Suter, who has played great defense and is second in the NHL among defensemen in scoring with 27 points, have contributed to the recent success of the team, but Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said that two young kids in Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle have had the biggest impact.

“Brodin is playing the second-most minutes of anyone on our team right now, which is remarkable for a 19-year-old,” Fletcher said. “Coyle has played on that first line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, so both of them are not just playing in the league, they’re playing big roles in the league.”

Fletcher mentioned others who have made great contributions, both with the Wild and at Houston of the American Hockey League, including Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson, Marco Scandella and Darcy Kuemper, among others.

He also gave a lot of credit to goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who is 14th in the league with a 2.32 goals-against average and playing pretty much every game.

“Nik has been great. He has been a rock for us,” Fletcher said. “Let’s not kid ourselves, every good team has a good goaltender, and if Nik can continue playing the way he’s playing, we’re going to be a competitive team.”

Fletcher also sang the praises of resurgent right winger Devin Setoguchi.

“I think there’s two things with Devin: when he’s physically involved and bumping people on the forecheck and competing and winning puck battles, he’s a much better hockey player than when he tries to play a pure skill game,” Fletcher said.

Another positive for the Wild has been the play of veteran Matt Cullen, Fletcher said.

“Matt has played terrific for us all season and Devin has been fortunate enough to be his winger,” Fletcher said. “The way Matt is playing right now, he’s going to make all of his wingers look good, and he’s got Pierre Marc-Bouchard on the other side and that line has played well for us. I think Devin has been the beneficiary of some good linemates, and again his mindset at playing physical has really helped him.”

All the success has resulted in more people in the stands.

“Our fans have been coming back in droves this year,” Fletcher said. “It’s been nice to see.” So where does the GM believes his team stands as to making the playoffs?

“We put ourselves in a good position now where teams are chasing us instead of us chasing them,” he said. “But we still have 18 games to go and we have to avoid big losing streaks right now and we have to stay healthy.

“So as a general manager, you’re always worried. I don’t think we’re in any sort of comfort zone right now. But I do like the fact that teams are chasing us and not vice versa. The last three years we have been chasing, and that really takes a toll on you. I like the fact we are where we are, but we have a lot of work to do.”

Hoiberg staying put

Former Timberwolves player and executive Fred Hoiberg was a hot candidate for the Gophers men’s basketball coaching position, according to news reports out of Ames.

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