When the Minnesota Wild signed Ryan Hartman to a three-year contract with a cap of $ 1.7 million, not even Bill Guerin could have foreseen the impact it would have on the organization in the near future.
Hartman went from depth to a legitimate rating threat after signing the multi-year deal and agreeing to a pay cut in return for long-term security. Prior to this season, he hadn’t been able to replicate the kind of scoring he presented in the 2016-17 season when he scored 19 goals and 31 points. Since then, it has always been debated whether or not he could achieve this production again.
In his first two seasons with the Wild, the 27-year-old forward had 20 and 22 points in 69 and 51 games, respectively. He appeared to be a depth forward who could use his physical presence and quick play to make an impact while launching offensively at a normal fourth line pace.
However, this question has been answered. Hartman has defied all expectations this season.
Hartman is set to crush his career highs with 13 goals and 24 points in the first 29 games of the season. His production was among the best in the league at 5v5 – Hartman’s 1.46 goals per 60 and 2.92 points per hour ranks 15th and 19th, respectively. While plus / minus doesn’t paint the full picture, his plus-22 is the best in the league.
Not only is Hartman’s 1.3 wins over substitution the best on the Wild, but he’s also the 22nd best in the league.
Since arriving in Minnesota, much of Hartman’s value has come from his defense. However, his defensive game deteriorated with his full transformation in the first third of the season. But that’s okay, given that his offensive value outweighed his defensive inefficiencies.
There are undoubtedly other positive elements of his game that Hartman had to put off, namely being overly aggressive and chippy. But it’s worth it when he’s playing the best he’s ever played and he’s a legitimate member of the supporting cast. In addition, the fit to the center and a bigger role made him be more responsible overall. Hartman is making fewer turnovers and taking fewer reckless penalties than ever before.
Hartman’s offensive play was among the best in the league. It’s not only his incredible shooting rate – scoring 5.2 above expectations – but he also produces solid playing and possession numbers. Sure, teammates have some impact on the numbers on the ice, but it’s clear he doesn’t look out of place, and he’s a crucial part of the Wild’s attacking body.
After starting the season with Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway, Dean Evason awarded Hartman an audition between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello because he determined that Joel Eriksson Ek would be a better fit on the second row. Hartman got the job after fitting in perfectly with the duo.
The line was fantastic, being dynamic offensively, controlling possession and staying relatively average defensively. Kaprizov, Hartman and Zuccarello dominated the competition with an expected goal rate of 56% and topped the opposition 11-4.
However, it wasn’t just Hartman’s emergence as a legitimate scoring threat that changed the Wild’s immediate future. It should be noted that he made the transition from the wing to the center and did so seamlessly. The Wild still don’t have a true No.1 cross, but the emergence of Hartman dramatically improves the center’s situation.
With Marco Rossi approaching full-time NHL status, Hartman is providing the stopgap the Wild needs with Eriksson Ek as the second line. The Wild have plenty of options to get around the last two lines because Frederick Gaudreau, Nick Bjugstad, Nico Sturm and Victor Rask are all decent options down the middle.
To correct the central situation, the Wild suddenly no longer needs to make any adjustments – for example, an in-season trade or a deadline acquisition. Aside from their current three-game slippage, the Wild were recently the top team in the league after winning eight straight. The list has proven that adding a center will definitely help, but it’s unnecessary and probably not worth it given the assets the Wild would have to relinquish.
More often than not, it is better not to fix what is not broken.
Beyond that, Hartman’s ability to thrive in a top-six role affects the Wild’s contracts next summer. There is no doubt that his $ 1.8million contract will set the bar for deep forwards Sturm, Greenway and Rem Pitlick this summer if they all remain on the roster in the future. This will most certainly set the tone for the Wild’s free agents, especially since many offers are awarded on the basis of individual team contracts.
Finally, the emergence of Hartman provides a glimpse of what the future holds for the Wild over the next three seasons when Zach Parise-Ryan Suter’s buyouts get expensive and lead to complications for the roster. The Wild will be doing just fine in the cap-less years, given the boost Hartman and Foligno have provided and because they are one of the deepest teams in the league.
All data via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference and MoneyPuck.