The Minnesota Wild enter the 2011-12 campaign with a defensive corps short of both marquee names and veteran experience. One of most pressing tasks for rookie head coach Mike Yeo and his coaching staff as they prepare this team for the regular season is to mold this group into a unit capable of both enabling offense from the Wild's forwards and shutting down the best opposition in the Western Conference.
At Yeo's disposal are a handful of veteran holdovers from last season's defensively average team. Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, and Nick Schultz all played top-four minutes for the Wild last season, and together the trio have played nearly 1,600 regular season games. Outside of that group, just depth defender Mike Lundin (224 games) has played a full NHL season.
To supplement this small group of veterans, the Wild must turn to youth. A quartet of defenders got their first real NHL experience with the Wild last season: 26-year-old Clayton Stoner along with Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, and Marco Scandella, all of whom range in age from 21 to 22 years old. Stoner and Spurgeon saw the bulk of the action, with each playing over 50 games, while Falk and Scandella both came in around the 20-game mark. 25-year-old Nate Prosser, another option unlikely to start the season with the team, also got into a pair of games.
Schultz and Zanon will be the most significant players on the back end for Minnesota this season, as Kent Wilson notes in Hockey Prospectus 2011-12: