ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — After another playoff exit, Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher says improvement has to come from within.

As the Wild players packed up their locker room Monday after another season’s end at the hands of the Blackhawks, there was much talk of expectations. How much higher they are than just a couple years ago, and how this team fell short of them.

“Our expectations inside this room were a lot higher than (a) second round series,” forward Matt Cooke said.

Fletcher said the potential that this team had made another playoff loss tougher to swallow than a year ago.

“Last year, it was probably a better feeling losing in the second round than this year. I don’t think anybody’s jumping up and down right now,” Fletcher said at his season wrap-up news conference. “I think any time you get 100 points, you make the playoffs and you win a round, you get to the final eight, to me that’s a good season. Having said that, I think we wanted to have better than a good season. I think we felt this team had the components and the depth and the coaching to keep playing.”

So what’s still missing? What does this team need to take the next step?

Fletcher said he doesn’t believe it’s out in free agency. He believes it’s already here.

“It’s going to come internally,” he said. “We say that a lot, but you look at the growth this year of (Nino) Niederreiter and (Jason) Zucker in particular, becoming 20-goal scorers, and I still think there’s another level they can both get to.”

Fletcher pointed to the team’s core of young players who have shown a lot of promise, believing that them elevating their game is what this team needs most, not outside replacements.

“We have a lot of young guys, we’ve committed to a lot of them contractually,” Fletcher said. “And none of them have hit their prime, hit their peak. And so that’s where the growth’s going to come.”

That sentiment was echoed by the players in the locker room.

“I think we have a great core,” forward Thomas Vanek said. “I think of other teams I’ve been around, this is one of the better cores we’ve had in terms of leadership and talent.”

Cooke, who won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh, said the Wild’s potential this season was obvious, and that’s part of what makes falling short of their expectations harder to stomach.

“There’s a great group in this room, capable of a lot of things, and you saw that a lot in the last three months of the season,” he said. “And at the end of the day, it means not a whole lot. Because there’s going to come a point in time when expectations are not (just) having a good regular season. And expectations aren’t having a great first round of the playoffs. Expectations are greater than that, and you have to prepare accordingly.”

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