We are officially into September and that means hockey leagues around the world are getting back in gear, whether that be training camps and preseason competitions, or fully-fledged regular-season games. With the return of the hockey season comes the return of fantasy hockey, and as such many sites have released projected stats for the 2023-24 season. While it is undoubtedly difficult to project stats for every player in the NHL, some predictions for the upcoming season are just way off the mark. Here are four Minnesota Wild projections from ESPN that leave you questioning what they were thinking.
Number 4: Spurgeon & Middleton Reduced Ice-Time
The Wild’s number-one pairing of Jake Middleton and Jared Spurgeon is somehow expected to receive less ice time than last season despite Matt Dumba’s 21:17 a night having to be redistributed elsewhere and their bottom-pairing looking very questionable. I would be shocked if their average time-on-ice (ATOI) this season didn’t increase significantly.
I will give the good people at ESPN a bit of a break on this one because most fantasy leagues do not care about how much ice time a player gets as they do not put a direct point value on minutes played, but they do have the projection there and man is it ever wrong. Even in leagues where no points are awarded for ice time, some people will look for defenders that are on the ice more as it results in more blocked shots and takeaways and usually means they are expected to be on the powerplay or penalty kill.
Number 3: Injury Bug Hits Hard
Sticking with the defense, Middleton and Jonas Brodin are two of the four critical Wild players, Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman being the other two, that is expected to miss a good chunk of the season. Unless ESPN has an inside track on some injury news that no one else is aware of, or a crystal ball that shows all of them getting rather significant injuries, it doesn’t really make sense for two of the Wild’s top defensemen and two-thirds of their top line to not play a full season.
Latest News & Highlights
Sure there will be a few games here or there that are missed throughout the season because of minor injuries, but projecting integral pieces of the Wild’s core as tough and passionate as Middleton, Brodin, and Hartman to suddenly drop 20-plus games is rather strange.
Number 2: Eriksson Ek & Boldy Point Production
Matt Boldy, when he isn’t golfing, is looked at as one of the premier young offensive talents in the NHL. He has been electric since he made his debut and is easily the second-biggest offensive threat on the Wild, producing an impressive 46 goals and 102 points in 128 games played. After hitting a bit of a sophomore slump last season exacerbated by difficulty finding a good line combination, he had a crazy second half where he was one of the best goal-scorers in the entire league. While it is a stretch to think Boldy will be a 90 or 100-point player like Kirill Kaprizov, a full season with solid linemates in Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson should help the youngster easily eclipse his 63 points from last season and be closer to a point per game.
Speaking of Eriksson Ek, the folks at ESPN have him with more points than Boldy at 66. While definitely not out of reach for a player that should get some major Selke Trophy love this season, the only way he reaches this mark is if Boldy is able to generate the previously mentioned level of offense. Eriksson Ek is a net-front player that capitalizes on bounces and tip-ins, not an offense generator on his own. Unless he is an absolute machine and breaks records on the first power-play unit, he won’t be reaching that mark without Boldy carrying the production.
Number 1: Zuccarello & Hartman Non-Factors
To give credit where credit is due, they have done a fairly good job with Kaprizov’s numbers. It just seems a given that he is going to break the 100-point mark again and they have him sitting at 103 with 48 goals in 81 games. I would probably take the over on both of those but that may just be my bias showing. Overall very solid numbers for the superstar, but I am not sure who they think he is playing with because they have his typical linemates Zuccarello and Hartman with 57 points and 42 points respectively.
While Zuccarello is entering the later stages of his career, a slight drop in points is probably expected, especially after his worrying play at the end of last season when Kaprizov was out with an injury. On the flip side of that, it is exactly that bond with Kaprizov that has rejuvenated his game and allowed him to become a very effective first-line winger. As long as the two of them remain together, it would be strange to see such a drop in production from Zuccarello and still see Kaprizov hit 100 points.
It would be even stranger to see him hit that mark with Hartman also dropping down to just 42 points. He did only have 37 points last season, but was injured for a long stretch and only played 59 games, with a portion of them not between his usual duo on the first line. Unless a massive trade happens or Marco Rossi steps up big time, Hartman is expected to be the first-line center for the entire season, and if he only amasses 42 points the Wild are going to be in a very bad spot.
Projecting Stats is Not Easy
There is no doubt that trying to predict the future is impossible. Even with all of the information and statistics that are readily available in the modern game of hockey, no one is able to say for certain what any player or team will do in the 2023-24 season. Some of the errors in ESPN’s projections are easily recognizable as numbers that an algorithm produced based on last season’s results were obviously not actually created by hand for every single player on every single team.