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Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Seven secret weapons to watch for on the Minnesota Wild

Folks, we’re less than a week from the outset of a play-in series between the Vancouver Canucks and the Minnesota Wild — but, if you didn’t know that already — you probably wouldn’t be browsing this site.

Based on pre-bubble coverage of training camp, Vancouver fans know that — beyond the obvious stars like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Jacob Markstrom — their team will be arriving in Edmonton with a bushel of secret weapons up their sleeves, ready to be unleashed upon the Wild.

Brock Boeser is as healthy as he’s ever been and ready to reinvigorate the second line.

Micheal Ferland is back and more than ready for postseason hockey.

Antoine Roussel is reportedly enjoying a resurgence.

Tyler Myers has a well-earned reputation as a playoff beast.

Zack MacEwen has come out of nowhere to potentially steal a spot in the lineup.

Heck, even good ol’ Olli Juolevi has gotten himself back into the conversation.

But if the Canucks have that many players waiting in the wings to make a larger-than-expected impact on the series, it stands to reason that the Wild could have a few secret weapons of their own ready to strike.

These are those players/weapons.

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Kevin Fiala

Key Stat: 16 points in 12 games post-Boudreau

We know, we know. To call a team’s leading scorer their “secret weapon” is a bit of a reach. But those who judge Fiala solely by his raw stats of 54 points in 64 games is sleeping on a player who spent the latter half of the 2019/20 season establishing himself as a genuine NHL superstar.

Fiala was over a point-per-game from January onward, posting 30 points in 28 games through the first two-and-a-half months of 2020. That rate only intensified when coach Bruce Boudreau was fired in mid-February, with Fiala notching nine goals and 16 points post-Boudreau.

If Fiala can come into the series on anywhere near as much a roll as he ended the regular season on, he absolutely has the potential to be a game-breaker.

Luke Kunin

Key Stat: Four points in four games in March

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As someone with just 131 career games under his belt, Kunin is still a player trying to figure out where he fits on the Wild roster. And as of the final month of the season, that place was increasingly in their top-six.

A former first-round pick, Kunin has developed a bit slowly, but he’s arrived now and appears to be worth the wait. With a penchant for battling for pucks and position, and a knack for finishing chances when given the opportunity, Kunin is poised to score some big goals against the Canucks – even if they aren’t the pretty kind.

Joel Eriksson Ek

Key Stat: Highest Quality of Competition rating on the team

You may hear Eriksson Ek referred to as Minnesota’s second line center, and that may be true in terms of minutes played, but it’s a bit of a misnomer. For much of the season, Eriksson Ek has been employed alongside a variety of grinding wingers as a shutdown center — a role he’s performed admirably in, given his inexperience.

Eriksson Ek has earned some particular accolades for becoming increasingly difficult to play against, some even going so far as to call him “annoying.” That, combined with his usual deployment, leaves little doubt that he will be all over Elias Pettersson throughout the play-ins — and that makes him a likely candidate to become the next postseason villain in Vancouver.

Alex Galchenyuk

Key Stat: Seven points in 12 games under Evason

At several points this season, Galchenyuk looked like he might be skating in his last NHL season. As a member of the Wild, however, Galchenyuk has had his best run of success in ages — even if it’s still nothing to write home about.

Seven points may seem unimpressive, but more notable is how Galchenyuk got those points. Under new, then-interim coach Dean Evason, Galchenyuk moved up into the ostensible second line center spot alongside Mats Zuccarello and either Kunin or Marcus Foligno — and six of his seven points came at even strength. Not bad for a guy that many had doubts would ever hold down a top-six role in the big leagues.

By himself, Galchenyuk is probably not a game-breaker, but he certainly has the pedigree to make more noise in this series than most would expect if he’s able to maintain his momentum.

Carson Soucy

Key Stat: On-ice save percentage of 92.9%, highest on team

Soucy is a 25-year-old rookie who didn’t start the season with a spot in Minnesota’s top-six — but he’s more than earned it by now. As a prototypical well-rounded defender, Soucy is solid in all areas of the game, though he’s never had much of an offensive bent.

Instead, Soucy has made his reputation as a player who will do whatever it takes to protect his goaltender from pucks and opposing skaters alike. He’ll block shots, clear the crease, and wash faces — and it should be no surprise that, as a rule, fewer shots seem to find their way into the back of the net when Soucy’s on the ice.

He’s the exact sort of defenceman whose value tends to skyrocket in the postseason.

Zach Parise

Key Stat: 30 points in his last 31 NHL playoff games

Don’t take the fact that Parise was almost traded for Andrew Ladd at the 2020 Deadline as an indication that he’s similarly washed up. At the age of 35, Parise is still very much an all-around threat who has spent the season being shuffled through every role imaginable — and, unfortunately for the Canucks, he has a long history of saving his best for the playoffs.

After leading the New Jersey Devils to the Finals in 2012, Parise has put up excellent numbers in all but his first postseason with the Wild. More often-than-not, Playoff Parise scores at a point-per-game rate or close to it — though it’s been a couple of years, so it remains to be seen if that’s still true.

Kaapo Kahkonen

Key Stat: .913 save percentage, best on team

If there’s a weak spot on the Wild’s roster, it’s undoubtedly in the crease. Devan Dubnyk entered the season as the de facto starter but lost his job to Alex Stalock — leading coach Evason to state it would be a three-man battle in July’s training camp, with Kahkonen being the third man.

Though he only played in five NHL games this year, the 23-year-old Kahkonen arguably performed the best of the bunch. Down in the AHL, Kahkonen won the Baz Bastien Memorial Award as the goaltender of the year, in only his second season in North America.

The odds of Kahkonen appearing in the upcoming play-in series are, however, admittedly long — and maybe Canucks fans should hope it stays that way.