Jared Spurgeon

Wild’s Spurgeon 10 seasons into size-defying career

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The defining moment of Jared Spurgeon‘s hockey career came when he was just 13: His peewee coach in Edmonton moved him from forward to defenseman.

There was no going back for Spurgeon, even though he hasn’t grown much bigger since then. Minnesota’s 5-foot-9, 167-pound stalwart on the blue line has been defying size stereotypes ever since.

”I just fell in love with the position,” Spurgeon said.

The Wild have felt the same way about him over the last 10 seasons. The 30-year-old Spurgeon, who set career highs in games (82), goals (14), assists (29), shots (152) and hits (91) during the 2019-19 season, signed a seven-year, $53 million contract extension at the beginning of training camp.

Not bad for a sixth-round pick the New York Islanders ultimately declined to sign, paving the way for a tryout with the Wild two years after he was drafted.

”Probably the best in the NHL at breaking the puck out. Unbelievable on his edges. One of the smartest players in the game,” said Buffalo defenseman Marco Scandella, who played with Spurgeon in Minnesota for seven seasons. ”He’s got a lot of things in his toolbox, and he doesn’t even need the size.”

Spurgeon, who is halfway through an expected two-week absence for a hand injury sustained while blocking a shot, has ranked over the last four years in the top 20 among NHL defensemen in goals, power play goals, blocked shots and time on ice.

”That’s one of those players that you’re just like, ‘How?’ ” Scandella said. ”You just have to watch him over a season. Play with him, and you understand how good he is.”

The ability to skate – and pass – quickly will always be critical for a player with Spurgeon’s frame. Part of that is being fast enough to elude opponents, but it also means maximizing his power by maintaining leverage and balance for the moments when he does initiate or absorb contact.

”You don’t need to be huge and massive to be strong on your skates,” said St. Louis center Ryan O'Reilly, who faces Spurgeon frequently as a Central Division rival. ”You go in and forecheck, and he is so strong. It’s like going against a big guy.”

Awareness is just as important as fearlessness to succeed as a 5-foot-9 player, of course.

Spurgeon simply doesn’t get pushed around much because he’s rarely caught off guard by a big hit. The advantage of vision from the blue line, being able to see the plays develop in front of him, was one of the benefits that immediately drew Spurgeon to defense. He tried to emulate players who came before him like Brian Rafalski and Dan Boyle, sub-6-foot defensemen who were offensive threats but never a liability in their own zone.

”The emphasis of moving the puck and getting up ice and being able to contribute offensively as well is a whole lot different than it used to be, where maybe you had one of those guys before and a bunch of a big, mean guys,” Spurgeon said. ”But I think now the game is so fast that I think it gives the ability for smaller guys to play.”

According to Sportradar data, there are 41 defensemen who have appeared in at least one NHL game this season and are listed at 5-foot-11 or shorter. That number drops to 18 at 5-foot-10 or less and to six at 5-foot-9 and under.

In the 2005-06 season after the lockout, which brought rule changes to encourage more free-flowing action in the neutral zone and increase goal scoring, there were only 29 defensemen at 5-foot-11 or shorter, 11 at 5-foot-10 or less, and three at 5-foot-9 and under. Twenty years ago, there were fewer still: 22 players at 5-foot-11 or shorter, eight at 5-foot-10 or less, and just one at 5-foot-9 and under.

The Wild have two 5-foot-9 blue-liners with Spurgeon and Brad Hunt. Boston’s Torey Krug is another standout in the club. Those lanky veterans around the league like St. Louis’ Colton Parayko (6-foot-6), Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton (6-foot-6) and Boston’s Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9) have obvious advantages with reach and strength, but there’s plenty more to sound defense than being able to poke a stick at a puck.

”We have the quickness and the first two or three strides in order to close plays so that they don’t get the possession of the puck and move on. I think it’s just using our skating abilities,” Krug said. ”I think it’s been a long time coming, especially with the real changes in the way the game is trending. It’s funny, years ago to have one of those guys on your team, people kind of scoffed at that. Now we’ve got two and sometimes three in the lineup at once, and it creates really mobile back end.”

STREAKING

Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry had a franchise-record scoreless run of 177:15 that ended during a 4-1 loss to Montreal on Tuesday, just the second defeat in eight starts for the backup to Matt Murray. Jarry stopped 82 consecutive shots during the streak, the longest in the league this season.

SLUMPING

The Detroit Red Wings are sliding toward a four-year absence from the playoffs after the end of their famous 25-season streak of making it. The Red Wings are on a 12-game winless streak, going 0-10-2 since Nov. 12, and have the worst record in the NHL at 7-22-3. They’ve dropped 10 straight games in regulation by a 47-16 margin.

Wild’s Eric Staal injured in collision with linesman (Video)

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Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal had to leave Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks after he was involved in a scary collision with a linesman along the boards in the first period.

As Staal and Anaheim forward Derek Grant raced for a puck, Staal went head first into linesman David Brisebois and immediately fell to the ice. He remained down for several minutes before finally being able to get to his feet and skate to the bench with assistance. He did not return to the game, while the Wild have yet to offer an update on his status.

You can see the play in the video above.

It could be a significant injury for the Wild as they are already playing without veterans Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon due to injuries at the moment. Staal entered Tuesday’s game tied with Jason Zucker for the team lead in scoring with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in his first 30 games this season for a Wild team that has rapidly been turning its season around after a brutal start.

The Ducks ended up winning Tuesday’s game, 3-2, in a shootout. The Wild are still 8-1-4 in their past 13 games.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

These are Wild times in Minnesota

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Expectations surrounding the Minnesota Wild were pretty low heading into this year. They were old, fired general manager Paul Fenton after he was allowed to sign players last summer, and they missed the playoffs by seven points in 2018-19. So, forgive the hockey world if they didn’t expect them to play much of a role in this year’s playoff chase.

The season started off the way everyone expected. Minnesota dropped their first four games to Nashville, Colorado, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh. They also lost six of their first seven games. During that opening seven-game segment of the season, they allowed at least four goals in all six of their losses.

They managed to tighten up a little bit after that point, but their season really took off when they returned home from their West Coast road trip on Nov. 14. That day, they beat the Arizona Coyotes, 3-2. They followed that up by losing to Carolina in overtime, beating Buffalo and Colorado and losing to Boston in overtime. They suffered an OT loss to the Rangers in New York, beat the Devils in New Jersey and took down the Senators and Stars in Minnesota. They’ve hit the road for back-to-back games in Florida and managed to beat the Panthers and Lightning on Tuesday and Thursday of this week.

Add it all up and the Wild have won five games in a row and they’ve collected a point in the standings in 11 consecutive contests. Yeah, that’s an impressive accomplishment for any group, especially this one.

A lot has gone right during this 8-0-3 run. Their big free-agent signing, Mats Zuccarello, has started producing with a lot more regularity. The veteran had a three-point effort in last night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning and he’s picked up nine points in his last nine contests.

Who saw Alex Stalock emerging as a quality starting goalie for the Wild? Since starter Devan Dubnyk has been away from the team for personal reasons, Stalock has gone 5-0-2 and he’s held the opposition to two goals or fewer in four of those outings.

And it’s not like the Wild haven’t had to overcome even more adversity throughout this streak. For example, on Tuesday night against Florida, they were down 2-0 in the first period and lost both Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon to injury. Instead of folding, they came back and won the game in regulation.

Last night, they were down 1-0 in the first period and they blew 3-1 and 4-3 leads, but still managed to take down the Bolts in the regulation.

This team clearly believes in itself right now.

“You haven’t seen that with this team for a while, but I think it’s the belief in them right at this point,” Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said after the win over Tampa, per NHL.com. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, woe is me,’ they’re saying, ‘Let’s go, let’s get these guys right away.’ It doesn’t work all the time. When you’re winning and things are going good, it works. They’ve dug deep and [are] really playing for each other. When you do that, good things happen.”

This lengthy unbeaten streak has allowed the Wild to climb back into a playoff spot, as they’re currently in the second Wild Card position. Sure, Vancouver, San Jose and Calgary are all breathing down their neck, but they shouldn’t care about that. They need to keep this run going for as long as they can.

One thing that jumps out when looking at Minnesota’s home and road splits, is the amount of games they’ve played away from Xcel Energy Center. The Wild have an awesome 7-1-2 record at home. They’ve also won seven games on the road, but their record away from home is 7-10-2. We’re less than three months into the season and they’ve already played nine more road games than home games. The fact that they’re in such a good position is even more remarkable when you consider all that.

After Sunday’s road game in Carolina, the Wild will get to enjoy a week at home, as they’ll take on Anaheim, Edmonton and Philadelphia before embarking on another three-game road trip.

If they can stay within striking distance of a playoff spot, does new GM Bill Guerin pull the trigger on a trade for a rental?

This will be an intriguing situation to follow.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Delicate line for NHL coaches; Sabres headed for collapse?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Devils discuss why John Hynes was fired, and the tone is pretty close to the opposite of how people discussed coaches like Mike Babcock once he was out the door. Taylor Hall talks up Hynes’ role in Hall winning a Hart Trophy, saying “I have a pretty cool trophy at home that I think he had a part in.” (The Trentonian)

• Kings coach Todd McLellan has been around, including working with Mike Babcock in Detroit. He has some interesting insight on how “delicate” it can be to motivate players without crossing the line, and compares it to how discipline has changed at elementary schools. “Ears aren’t pulled. You don’t go to the principal’s office to see or get the strap.” (Los Angeles Times)

• John Tortorella didn’t comment, but plenty of players from his various stops discuss his methods, with the overriding message being that he doesn’t cross the line. (The Athletic [$])

• A hand injury will likely keep Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon out at least a couple weeks. (Star-Tribune)

• In taking a deep dive regarding the Sabres’ underlying numbers, Travis Yost wonders if another collapse is looming. (Buffalo News)

• Manon Rhéaume, the first woman to play in the NHL, will be honored with a statue outside Quebec City’s Videotron Centre. [CBC]

• An in-depth breakdown of the Blues’ “Enter the Zone,” predictive gaming platform, which “offered a glimpse of the future of wagering on professional hockey.” (ESPN)

• Sonny Sachdeva wonders if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl could actually maintain their paces at around 140 points, and compares their starts to some of the hottest stretches from the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby. (Sportsnet)

• How defensemen are evolving to impact games more at 5-on-5 than on the power play. (Rotoworld)

• People might snicker at Alex Burrows making the Ring of Honour, or sneer at his agitating days, but Daniel Wagner explains that you won’t understand Burrows if you aren’t a fan of the Canucks. (Vancouver Courier/Pass it to Bulis)

• When will the Blackhawks break out of their current trend of mediocrity? (Second City Hockey)

• The second tier of pending free agents who might get big raises, from Jake Muzzin to Evgenii Dadonov. (Sporting News)

• There are some interesting photo choices in the latest edition of the Upper Deck hockey card series. [Puck Junk]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Olofsson, Schwartz among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Jared Spurgeon, Wild – D: Spurgeon might not be the best of the best when it comes to offensive production from defensemen, but he has been rather good and reliable in recent years. He’s recorded between 37-43 points in each of his previous three seasons and he’s well on his way to doing at least that well in 2019-20 with three goals and 15 points in 26 games. His production has come in waves this season, but right now he’s riding one with a goal and six points in his last five contests. If you want to grab a hot defensemen who wouldn’t look out of place on most teams throughout the year then Spurgeon should be on your shortlist. Presently he’s only owned in 25% of Yahoo leagues.

Adam Fox, Rangers – D: If you want someone who is a bigger gamble than Spurgeon, but with more upside, then you could consider Fox instead. The one thing the two of them have in common is that both of them have been producing lately. In Fox’s case, he has two goals and five points in his last five games. Fox has been flying a bit under the radar for a while now though. He had no points in his first seven games while averaging just 16:04 minutes, but more recently the rookie has settled in and become a major contributor for the Rangers. From Oct. 24th onward, he’s scored five goals and 14 points in 18 contests while averaging 18:50 minutes. A lot of people haven’t gravitated to him yet given that he’s still owned in just 27% of Yahoo leagues, but if he keeps playing like this then he’ll start getting scooped up at an exponential rate. In other words, there might not be a whole lot more time to grab the 21-year-old.

Ivan Barbashev, Blues – C/LW: Barbashev had just 14 goals and 26 points in 80 games last season, but that’s hardly surprising given that he was averaging a modest 11:31 minutes. The Blues are giving him 13:33 minutes per game this season and his production has ticked up to four goals and 13 points in 28 contests. He’s not a major offensive threat, but at this point he’s worth at least looking at as a short-term grab when he’s hot. Now is such a time given that he’s scored two goals and six points in his last three games.

Gustav Nyquist, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: The Blue Jackets had a rough summer to say the least, but the one significant player they did manage to sign was Nyquist. He was limited to a goal in his first four games with them, perhaps because he was still finding his groove with his new team, but since then he’s been a pretty reliable contributor. He has six goals and 17 points in his last 22 games. Over that span he hasn’t been held off the scoresheet for more than two games in a row. Along with his eligibility on both wings, he’s a nice player to help fill the void if you’re dealing with injury problems.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman’s not a great long-term pickup, but he might be worth gambling on in the short-term. He’s been effectively lately with six goals and 10 points in his last nine games. That’s in stark contrast to his three goals and four points in 16 contests start to the campaign. Coleman’s long-term production will fall about in the middle of those extremes, but for the most at least he’s playing above his norm.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Joonas Donskoi, Avalanche – LW/RW: Donskoi is having a pretty interesting season. He’s been held off the scoresheet of 15 of 26 games, but he still has 11 goals and 22 points. That’s because when he does have an offensive game, it tends to be a big one. He has six multi-point games this season and four contests where he’s recorded at least three points. To put that in perspective, teammate Nathan MacKinnon, who has nearly double Donskoi’s point total, has contributed just one more three or more points game. This is all to say that Donskoi has been a bumpy ride, but if you can stomach the droughts, he has averaged out to be a pretty good contributor.

Dustin Brown, Kings – RW: Brown has already endured some prolonged slumps this season, but he’s been better lately with two goals and five points in six contests. It’s entirely possible this is just a bit of a hot streak and that proves to be the case, you shouldn’t hesitate to drop him. That said, he was pretty effective in 2017-18 and 2018-19, so it’s entirely possible that he’s turned a corner and will be fairly solid going forward.

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: Offensive defensemen have been the highlight of this season’s rookie pool thus far, but in terms of rookie forwards, Olofsson has led the charge with 10 goals and 20 points in 27 games. He had a quiet stretch from Oct. 17-Nov. 2 where he was limited to just two assists in eight games, but he’s bounced back in a big way with four goals and 10 points over his last 12 contests.

Jaden Schwartz, Blues – LW: Schwartz was limited to 11 goals and 36 points in 69 games last season, which is the worst he’s done from a points-per-game perspective since his 2012-13 rookie campaign. He’s bounced back nicely in 2019-20 though. He has seven goals and 20 points in 28 contests, making him a pretty decent stopgap if you need an injury replacement.

Mark Borowiecki, Senators – D: If you’re picking up Borowiecki, it will be primarily for the hits. He ranks second in the league with 108 hits and leads all defensemen in that category by a decent margin. The next best blueliner is Brenden Dillon, who has 86 hits this season. Borowiecki has always been a great contributor in the hits category, but what makes this season a little different is that he’s chipping in a bit offensively too. Not a lot, but it’s enough to tip the scales a bit more in his favor. He has two goals and 10 points in 27 contests. It helps that he’s averaging 17:10 minutes, which will be a career-high if he maintains it. 

Players You May Want To Drop

Jakob Silfverberg, Ducks – RW: From Oct. 8-Nov. 14, Silfverberg was contributing like an elite forward with nine goals and 17 points in 18 contests. He’s gone cold though, recording just an assist in his last seven games. Silfverberg has traditionally been a solid secondary scorer, but no more than that. I do think he’s worth keeping a close eye on even if you do drop him, but you should still examine your other options.

Jack Hughes, Devils – C: Hughes is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, but it sounds like that’s just a minor setback. The bigger issue is that Hughes is dealing with some growing pains in his rookie season. He has four goals and 11 points in 24 contests, which is hard to criticize given that he’s just 18-years-old, but it’s not the kind of production you’d hope for out of a first overall pick, even in their rookie season. If you’re in a keeper league then it’s still worth your while to hang onto Hughes as he should eventually be a great forward, but if you’re in a single season league then you’ll want to cut your losses. Even if he does heat up to an extent in the second half of the campaign, odds are it won’t be enough to warrant holding onto him given his center-only eligibility.

Kaapo Kakko, Rangers – RW: Those hoping this season’s Calder Trophy race would be a fight between Hughes and Kakko have been left disappointed. Like Hughes, Kakko hasn’t exactly excelled in his rookie season. The 2019 second overall pick has six goals and 11 points in 23 contests. He did seem to turn a corner from Oct. 29-Nov. 20 with five goals and eight points in eight games, but he fell right back with just an assist over his last six contests. It doesn’t help that he’s a huge plus/minus liability at minus-13.

Phil Kessel, Coyotes – RW: I’ll admit to being somewhat on the fence about this one. The Coyotes acquired Kessel to lead the charge for them offensively and he certainly has that ability, but so far this season he’s been fairly underwhelming. He has four goals and 14 points in 28 contests. He also has a minus-14 rating, which is terrible in general, but especially with Arizona this season. The Coyotes only have four minus players and Kessel’s rating is by far the worst. He is making a transition to a new team so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him have a better second half, but thus far he’s been a big disappointment.

Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils – G: Cory Schneider’s struggles and eventual demotion to the AHL has made Blackwood the clear number one goaltender in New Jersey, but he still leaves plenty to be desired. Blackwood has an 8-7-3 record, 3.12 GAA, and .898 save percentage in 18 contests this season. This has been a rough season for the Devils and their goaltending situation is one that’s best to avoid entirely.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.