Expectations are high for the Minnesota Wild in 2015-16. Back-to-back seasons as one of the final four teams in the Western Conference has Minnesota thinking bigger in Mike Yeo's fifth season as head coach.
Here are five things you need to know about the Wild as they open the season Thursday at 8 p.m. in Colorado.
1. Defense could dominate
Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin will anchor a Minnesota blue line that Michael Russo of the Star Tribune feels will be one of the deepest defensive units in the NHL. The front line defending pucks before they reach last year's Vezina Trophy finalist goaltender Devan Dubnyk also includes Matt Dumba, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Nate Prosser and Christian Folin.
2. Conference Finals or bust
Minnesota's last three trips to the postseason have ended at the hands of the Blackhawks, and they haven't been to the Western Conference Finals since getting rocked by the Anaheim Ducks in 2003-04. Suter admitted, via the Pioneer Press, that there is a sense of urgency to go farther: "the group we have right now is capable of winning, and we need to take that step in the near future."
3. Vanek needs to step up
Thomas Vanek's first season with the Wild netted a dull 21 goals and he failed to score in 10 playoff games. USA Today is giving him a bit of a break because he played through injuries and on a line that allotted fewer shots for Vanek than any other year of his career.
4. New center in town
Tyler Graovac will center the third line with Vanek and Charlie Coyle on his sides. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound 22-year-old from Ontario, Canada, will provide a physical presence on the offensive end. FOX Sports North has more on Graovac.
5. Real deal Dubnyk
Devan Dubnyk saved the Wild last season when he essentially morphed into "The Thing" – the guy made of rock in the Avengers movies – and stonewalled almost every team he faced to help the Wild finish the regular season with 27 wins in a stretch of 38 straight starts.
After being rewarded with a six-year contract in the off-season, Dubnyk now enters a season for the first time in his career as the no-brainer No. 1 goalie. Can he handle it?
"I feel like a completely different person than I did going into the season last year, so hopefully I can continue to make strides forward," he said, via Wild.com.
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