When their best pure defenseman, Jonas Brodin, was sidelined, the Wild surged.

With their best scorer and most valuable player, Kirill Kaprizov, sidelined, the Wild have excelled.

Their drive to the top of the Central Division standings, and toward the top of the entire NHL, has been a doctorate-level study in team-building.

The Wild have a gritty, deep, unified roster.

Dean Evason coaches with a tone that is always demanding but never strident or unreasonable.

Most of all, Bill Guerin has again proved that he is the Room Whisperer, the Sultan of Subtlety.

Remember when the Wild traded Cam Talbot for Filip Gustavsson last July?

That felt more like a move to remove Talbot from the awkwardness of being bumped from the starter's role by Marc Andre-Fleury than because Gustavsson was a quality player.

Now Gustavsson is competing with Fleury to be the Wild's Game 1 playoff starter. He is 8-1-4 in his past 13 games with a 1.75 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. Who could have seen that coming?

At the trade deadline, Guerin, strapped by salary cap problems and wary of dealing major assets, acquired forward Marcus Johansson, who has bounced around the league in recent years and hasn't scored 20 goals in a season since 2016-17.

Guerin liked his speed and skill, and thought he would deepen and enliven the Wild lines that didn't benefit from playing with Kaprizov.

Johansson's arrival caffeinated Matt Boldy. Boldy produced 40 points in his first 62 games this season. He has 14 points in his last 11.

The arrival of power forward Ryan Reaves has made the Wild bigger and tougher, and Reaves has even contributed occasionally as a scorer. He had zero points in 12 games with the Rangers this season; he has 14 points in 53 games with the Wild.

Without Kaprizov, the Wild are starless without being hopeless, a unique trick.

Look at the players Guerin has jettisoned: Zach Parise. Ryan Suter. Kevin Fiala. Jason Zucker. Alex Stalock. All could be described as talented and popular.

Somehow, under Guerin, the Wild are better without them.

"I think he knows what works," Reaves said of Guerin. "He's played on some really good teams. He knows that it's not just about having a bunch of first-rounders that make up a team. It's grit. It's skill. It's having good defensive defensemen, and some good offensive defensemen.

"Obviously, we have good goaltending. I think we have a good blend of everything you need to be a good team."

Including what hockey people call "a good room."

"Everybody in this locker room made it very easy for me to fit in," Reaves said. "They made it easy for my personality to come out. I'm not shy about it, but in a locker room, it's just easier to be yourself, and then just go to work."

Guerin has built the NHL's hottest team even though Kaprizov is out and might not be back until the playoffs, and despite being restricted by the contracts of Parise and Suter.

He's the chef who takes the scraps from the expensive dishes and makes an award-winning stew.

"We have a team," Evason said. "We don't have just one guy. We have a team, and the team plays hard for each other. When [Kaprizov] is in there, he plays a team game. So we didn't have to change anything when he went out.

"We just stayed the same. Nobody's trying to step up and be Kirill Kaprizov and trying to score goals like he does. Collectively, as a group, we play how we're supposed to play."

Kaprizov's injury looms. Because of its goaltending, team defense and improving offense, this might be the Wild team of recent vintage best equipped to make a playoff run.

They are thriving in the regular season without Kaprizov. Whether they can win a playoff series without him is a question they would rather remain unanswered.