Minnesota Wild

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.

The Buzzer: Aho shines again, Fleury’s big return, Red Wings lose 12th in a row

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. Aho followed up his five-point effort against Minnesota over the weekend by scoring a pair of goals in the Hurricanes’ 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night. After recording just one point in his first six games, Aho has been dominant for the Hurricanes and is now up to 28 points in his past 25 games. His assist numbers are still down a little bit this season, but he is now on pace for 48 goals this season. That number would shatter his career high.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. Fleury made his return to the Golden Knights’ lineup on Tuesday night after being away from the team due to a personal matter. He was outstanding in the Golden Knights’ 5-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, turning aside 28 of the 29 shots he faced. It was his first start since Nov. 23 and he missed a shutout by only 27 seconds. This game quickly turned into a rout as the Blackhawks’ already undermanned defense lost Calvin de Haan during the game (it sounds like a significant injury according to coach Jeremy Colliton), but it still had to be a positive sign for the Golden Knights to see Fleury step right back into the lineup and play the way he did. He is also now just three wins away from tying Curtis Joseph for sixth on the NHL’s all-time wins list.

3. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs did not play their best game on Tuesday, but they still picked up a much-needed win in Vancouver thanks in large part to huge games Tavares and starting goalie Frederik Andersen. Tavares finished the game with two goals and an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win. They have won two games in a row and are now 6-3-0 under new coach Sheldon Keefe. Tavares’ performance on Tuesday snapped what had been a three-game scoreless streak.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • There is no stopping Milan Lucic right now! After scoring zero goals in his first 27 games this season he has now scored three goals in the past four games. That includes his latest goal in the Flames 5-2 win over Arizona on Tuesday night. Zac Rinaldo also scored two goals in the win for Calgary. The Flames have now won six games in a row.
  • Ben Bishop stopped all 26 shots he faced for the Dallas Stars to record his first shutout of the season, giving new coach Rick Bowness his first win behind the Stars’ bench.
  • Nick Bonino scored his 12th goal of the season in the Nashville Predators’ 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.
  • Jonathan Quick played what might have been his best game of the season as he helped the Los Angeles Kings to a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers.
  • The Minnesota Wild picked up another point, but lost in a shootout to the Anaheim Ducks. The big story out of that game for the Wild is the injury to Eric Staal after he was injured in a collision with a linesman. Read all about it here.

Red Wings losing streak reaches 12 games

Times are tough in Hockeytown right now as the Red Wings’ losing streak reached the 12-game mark on Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The past 10 games are all regulation losses, while the team has been outscored by a 53-23 margin during the streak. The Red Wings also have a minus-62 goal differential for the season in just 32 games. That is the worst goal differential for any team through 32 games since the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators — an expansion team that went on to win just 10 out of 84 games — and the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks, a second-year franchise that won just 11 out of 74 games. The Red Wing are 7-22-3 this season.

Highlights of the Night

Shea Weber is playing some incredible hockey for the Montreal Canadiens right now, and this goal in Pittsburgh late in the second period was a massive momentum swing.

Patrik Laine made this goal look easy. It almost certainly was not as easy as it looked. But wow did he make it look easy.

Jack Eichel extended his current point streak to 14 consecutive games by scoring the game-winning goal (then adding an empty-net goal later in the game) against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night. It was a beautiful play made possible by a baffling defensive breakdown by the Blues. Read more about the Sabres’ win here.

Blooper of the Night

It was a tough night for the Oilers on the blooper front. First, not only did starting goalie Mikko Koskinen get fooled by Dougie Hamilton on a goal from the center red line (read about that one here), but Connor McDavid had this happen to him on a penalty shot attempt.

 

Factoids

  • After posting back-to-back shutouts Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry set a franchise record for longest shutout streak. [NHL PR]
  • Auston Matthews scored his 100th career goal on Tuesday. Alex Ovechkin is the only active player that hit that mark faster than him. [NHL PR]
  • The Jets scored two goals in 11 seconds on Tuesday night, the third-fastest sequence in franchise history and the fastest since the team moved to Winnipeg. [NHL PR]
  • Alex Pietrangelo scored his 100th career goal on Tuesday, joining Al MacInnis as the only Blues defenders to score 100 goals for the team. [NHL PR]
  • Weber’s highlight reel goal was his 10th of the season, making it the 11th time in his career he has hit that number. That is most among active defenders. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Florida Panthers 1
Montreal Canadiens 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
Buffalo Sabres 5, St. Louis Blues 2
Nashville Predators 3, San Jose Sharks 1
Anaheim Ducks 3, Minnesota Wild 2 (SO)
Winnipeg Jets 5, Detroit Red Wings 1
Dallas Stars 2, New Jersey Devils 0
Carolina Hurricanes 6, Edmonton Oilers 3
Calgary Flames 5, Arizona Coyotes 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Vancouver Canucks 1
Vegas Golden Knights 5, Chicago Blackhawks 1
Los Angeles Kings 3, New York Rangers 1

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.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Best 3-on-3 producers; should Avs pay Hall price?

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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.

• An interesting look at the players who have been the the best at 3-on-3 overtime. [The Hockey News]

• Should the Avalanche pay what’s expected to be a hefty price to acquire Taylor Hall? [Mile High Hockey]

Andrei Svechnikov is showing that the dreaded “sophomore jinx” isn’t going to affect him. [NHL.com]

• “Ottawa Senators defenceman Nikita Zaitsev was not talking publicly Friday about allegations that he took his daughters from his ex-wife, Margo Gotovtseva, while in Russia last month.” [Ottawa Citizen]

• Penguins GM Jim Rutherford on Alex Galchenyuk‘s future as he struggles offensively: “The fact of the matter is, when we’re totally healthy he’s going to have to work very hard just to get in the top 12.” [TSN]

Anders Lee is finally coming around offensively for the Islanders. [Islanders Insight]

• “How To Improve The Lack Of Consistency In The NHL Department of Player Safety” [NoVa Caps Fans]

• Daniel Carcillo admits he was an abuser, a bully and worse, but the former NHLer has stories to tell and a past he wants to make amends for. [Toronto Star]

• The Blackhawks know what they are this season: inconsistent. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Fun read on the man who many NHL superstars go to when they have equipment needs. [Sportsnet]

• “Mark Pavelich case is one of sadness and frustration” [LA Times]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Brodin, Tuch among this week’s top adds

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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

Sami Vatanen, Devils – D: Vatanen traditionally was a solid contributor offensively for a defenseman, but the 2018-19 campaign was rough for him. He had four goals and 17 points in 50 games, which was a steep drop from his 32-point showing in 2017-18 and ended his run of five straight campaigns with over 20 points. He’s bouncing back nicely in 2019-20 with four goals and 13 points in 25 contests. He’s also doing fairly well right now with four assists in his last four contests, so he’s a pretty good short-term pickup, but he’s also a solid enough contributor that he wouldn’t look out of place as a long-term depth defenseman on most standard fantasy league teams.

Alex Tuch, Golden Knights – LW/RW: Tuch took a big leap forward in his second full NHL campaign with 20 goals and 52 points in 74 contests. An upper-body injury kept him out until Oct. 31st though and he struggled to get going after that with a goal and an assist in his first 10 games. He seems to have shaken off the rust though with four goals and seven points in his last five contests. He’s a gamble to be sure, but he has the potential to be a fairly good contributor for the rest of the season.

Brandon Tanev, Penguins – LW/RW: The Penguins decision to sign Tanev to a six-year, $21 million contract over the summer drew some immediate critics, but so far it’s worked out well. He’s chipped in regularly offensively with six goals and 16 points in 30 games, which puts him on pace to comfortably surpass his previous career-high of 29 points in 80 contests. With eligibility for both wings, he’s a solid option for most teams in general and worthy of partial consideration right now because he’ll be going into Tuesday’s contest on a three-game point streak.

Phillip Danault, Canadiens – C: Danault set a career-high in 2018-19 with 53 points and he’s on pace to top it with seven goals and 23 points in 30 contests. He’s still only owned in 21% of Yahoo leagues though, which can be partially attributed to his center-only eligibility. Even with that limitation, he’s a pretty good pickup right now given how effective he’s been for the last little while. He has two goals and 13 points in his last 13 games and is on a three-game point streak.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Jonas Brodin, Wild – D: Brodin is a pretty okay defenseman offensively, but not good enough that he’s typically worth owning in standard leagues. Right now is a potential exception though given how effective he’s been lately. He has six assists in his last five contests. If you do grab him in the hopes of riding what’s left of his hot streak, don’t hesitate to drop him if he goes quiet for a couple games.

Ryan Graves, Avalanche – D: Cale Makar has obviously captured the spotlight in Colorado as far as young defensemen go, but Graves is slowly becoming a meaningful part of the Avalanche’s blueline too. After a quiet start to the campaign, he’s scored three goals and eight points in his last 14 games. It’s helped that he’s averaged 17:18 minutes over that span, up from 15:28 minutes per contest over his first 14 games. It’s worth adding that Makar unfortunately suffered an injury during Saturday’s game. At the time of writing, the extent of his injury isn’t known, but if he does miss time, then Graves’ responsibilities might increase further while he’s out.

Alex Killorn, Lightning – LW/RW: Although he’s owned in just 20% of Yahoo leagues, Killorn is having a great campaign with eight goals and 22 points in 25 games. It helps that he’s averaging 17:29 minutes, up from just 14:52 minutes in 2018-19 when he finished with 2018-19. He’s never recorded more than 47 points in a single season, so you might be worried about sustainability and that’s fair, but even as a short-term pickup, he’s worthy of consideration. He’s on a three-game goal scoring streak and is coming off a four-point game on Saturday. That’s all part of a longer-term run of six goals and 16 points in his last 12 contests.

Kevin Fiala, Wild – LW/RW: Fiala got off to a quiet start this season with just an assist in his first eight games, but since then he’s been great. He’s scored six goals and 14 points in his last 17 contests, putting him in a three-way tie for the Wild’s scoring lead from the start of November onward. He’s never recorded more than 48 points in a single season, but at the age of 23, it’s not unreasonable to believe that he’s capable of further growth. If nothing else, he’s a decent gamble while he’s hot. 

Matt Niskanen, Flyers – D: Niskanen saw his offensive contributions decline to 25 points in 80 games last season with the Washington Capitals, but the trade to Philadelphia seems to have done him some good. One big difference is that he was averaging just 0:35 power-play minutes in 2018-19 and that’s jumped to an average of 2:15 power-play minutes now that he’s in Philadelphia. He has 13 points in 30 games this season, with six of those points being scored with the man advantage in contrast to 2018-19 when he recorded all of two power-play points over the entire campaign. All this has made Niskanen a decent option in standard fantasy leagues this season and a good stopgap measure if you have any injured blueliners.

Clayton Keller, Coyotes– LW/RW: Keller had an amazing rookie campaign with 23 goals and 65 points in 82 games. He went through something of a sophomore slump, scoring 14 goals and 47 points in 82 contests last season, but he seems to be rebounding a bit in his third full season. He has five goals and 20 points in 32 contests, which doesn’t put him on pace to challenge his rookie showing, but it is still a step in the right direction. He’s also on a hot streak right now with a goal and five points in his last five games.

Players You May Want To Drop

Carter Hutton, Sabres – G: Hutton has basically had two different seasons in 2019-20. He couldn’t have asked for a better start to the campaign with a 6-0-0 record, 1.65 GAA, and .943 save percentage in six starts through Oct. 22nd. He hasn’t even won a single game since Oct. 22nd though. Instead he’s gone 0-5-4 with a 3.99 GAA and .875 save percentage in nine starts. Obviously, neither stretch is a full representation of what he is as a goaltender, but if you also take his 2018-19 campaign into consideration, then he hasn’t proven yet that he’s up for the task of being a starting goaltender. Keep in mind that he’ll turn 34 on Dec. 19th, so while he’s still relatively new to being a serious competitor for a starting gig, he’s in no way a young goaltender with upside. If you’ve been holding onto him since that hot start, you should look elsewhere.

Jared McCann, Penguins – C/LW: McCann had a terrific run from Nov. 4-27 with five goals and 12 points in 11 contests, but that hot streak is now firmly in the rear view mirror. He’s been limited to just an assist over his last five contests. McCann is still worth keeping an eye on, but given his relatively limited role in Pittsburgh – he’s averaging 14:34 minutes – the merit of keeping him on your team in a standard fantasy league when he’s not hot is still very much open to debate.

Derick Brassard, Islanders – C/LW/RW: There have been times in Brassard’s career where he’s been a solid contributor, but he hasn’t been reliable since being traded from Ottawa in the 2017-18 campaign. He went on an incredible run of six goals and 15 points in 12 games from Oct. 24-Nov. 21, but he did almost nothing offensively before that run and he’s been similarly cold since his hot streak ended. He’s not nearly consistent enough to warrant holding onto at all times.

Roope Hintz, Stars – C/LW: Hintz has 11 goals in 24 games, but that’s thanks to a 23.4 shooting percentage that he probably won’t be able to come close to sustaining. He’s already slowing down with just one goal in his last seven contests. Given that he doesn’t bring much to the table from a fantasy perspective beyond goals, there’s not much reason to keep him on your team at this time.

Tyson Barrie, Maple Leafs – D: I’m a little hesitant to suggest you should drop Barrie, but it’s certainly worth considering your other options. The Maple Leafs acquired Barrie over the summer and he was a huge disappointment early on with just five assists in his first 21 games. Then Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as the bench boss and it looked like the coaching change might have a positive impact on Barrie in particular. He went on a run of three goals and five points in Keefe’s first three games behind the bench. Since then though, Barrie has no points and a minus-four rating in five games. That’s not a huge slump, but given the overall scope of the season, it is discouraging to see him go cold again so soon after the coaching change. So far, Toronto just hasn’t been an ideal fit for him.

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.