1 Avoid the injury bug
After injuries pillaged the Wild throughout 2017-18, the group has healed up and staying at full strength might be the most important catalyst for success.
No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter is ready to return from a severe ankle fracture, and winger Zach Parise is available from the get-go after missing the first half and end of last season.
Only forward Luke Kunin is still sidelined, as he recovers from a torn ACL.
Health is an unpredictable factor, and injuries don’t discriminate — testing teams all around the NHL. But if the Wild can keep off the injury list, its chances of being competitive only improve.
2 Start on time
The perils of a slow start should be fresh in the Wild’s mind; after a ho-hum 4-4-2 debut last October, the team played catch-up for much of the season and it took a strong second-half to lock down a playoff berth — on April 2.
Falling behind the likes of the Jets and Predators could be a recipe for disaster, and with only four games in the first 11 days of its season, finding its mojo early would only bode well for the Wild.
3 All about special teams
Any advantage — even for just two minutes — becomes magnified in today’s ultracompetitive NHL, so the Wild’s performance on the power play and penalty kill could sway it up or down the standings.
Both units ranked near the middle-of-the-pack last season but have an opportunity to improve.
New assistant coach Dean Evason is overseeing the Wild’s attack with an extra man, and already the team has experimented with a new look — one that has all lefthanded shooters on the ice and winger Mikael Granlund quarterbacking the action.
On the PK, better balance throughout the lineup might be just the boost the team needs to establish consistency with its duos.
4 Secondary scoring
Since the Wild’s leading scorers are bundled into the top-six, the first two lines are likely to warrant the attention of the opponent’s best defenders.
And that matchup could create an opportunity for the third line of Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway and Charlie Coyle to capitalize on a third defensive pairing.
Already, the trio has impressed during training camp and the preseason with its combination of size, speed and skill.
Greenway, after making his NHL debut late last season, seemed likely to start on the wing, but his 6-6, 227-pound frame will be given a chance to wreak havoc up the middle. Eriksson Ek looks more confident after a strong finish last season, and Coyle is aiming to deliver a bounce-back performance.
What’s more, since all three can play center, anyone can take faceoffs.
Ultimately, if the Wild finds a rhythm, don’t be surprised if this line is one of the reasons why.
5 Depth on defense
Three of the four highest-scoring offenses in the Western Conference last season resided in the Central Division, and since the Jets, Predators and Avalanche haven’t showed any signs of slowing down, an airtight defense is a must.
The return of Suter is no doubt encouraging, and he fills out a deep top-four that also includes Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon. But it’s the improvement on the third pairing that might be particularly beneficial.
Not only did the Wild add another option for the penalty kill in Greg Pateryn, but his rugged style is the same one partner Nick Seeler prescribes to — giving the Wild a physical, gritty edge to its back end.
Between the pipes, Devan Dubnyk — who went 35-16-7 with a .918 save percentage and 2.52 goals-against average in 2017-18 — is poised to log between 55 and 60 starts. Alex Stalock returns as his understudy.