Slated to enter their 21st season as an NHL franchise in 2020-21, the Minnesota Wild have always taken a lot of pride in drafting and developing many top-tier defensemen. As we gear up for next season (whenever that may be), the Wild defense core is certainly beginning to take shape. Who makes the cut on the blue line? And who’s on the outside looking in once the puck drops? Let’s read on and find out.
First up is the crown jewel of the defense corps in Minnesota and the little engine that could, Jared Spurgeon. Since entering the league back in 2010-11, Spurgeon has grown into one of the most reliable defensemen in the National Hockey League. At 5-foot-9, 186 pounds (on a good day), he certainly doesn’t scare opponents from a physical standpoint, but from a hockey-IQ and on-ice battle perspective, well, that’s a different story entirely.
In Sept. 2019, Spurgeon and the Wild agreed to terms on a massive seven-year, $53.025 million extension locking him up long-term. Among the great defenseman in Wild franchise history, he ranks first in goals (82), first in games played (653), and second in points (280). He’s a fan-favorite, highly-skilled, tough as nails, and a born leader who’s done anything and everything asked of him, and then some in the red, green, white, and harvest gold colors of Minnesota. Look for Spurgeon to be a key catalyst once again in 2020-21.
Next up is Madison, Wisconsin native and one of the best U.S.-born defensemen of all time, Ryan Suter. Slated to turn 36 in January, Suter is certainly no spring chicken anymore, but his strong, consistent play has been something to marvel at throughout his long and successful NHL career. His strength as a player appears with his workhorse-like mentality and his ability to play a clean and consistent 200-foot game. This is all the more impressive given the long, hard minutes he logs on a nightly basis.
Entering his ninth season in the State of Hockey, Suter has averaged north of 26 minutes of ice-time per game seven times, which is unheard of for a modern-day and analytically-driven NHL landscape. Not only can he handle the workload, but he has relished it as one of the best players in Minnesota franchise history. The future-Hall-of-Famer is a beloved member of the Wild, who fully embodies what it means to play in such a hockey-crazed city like Minneapolis. Like a fine wine, Suter just continues to get better, much to the joy of hockey fans in Minny.
Although he’s been the focal-point and never-ending subject of trade rumors over the past 18 months, as it stands, Matt Dumba will begin the 2020-21 campaign on Minnesota’s blue line. After putting up 50 points (14G, 36A) in 2017-18, his statistical production has tallied off over the past two seasons. Be that as it may, he is still a very impressive top-four defenseman at just 26 years of age. He can skate, move the puck efficiently, and has a real eye for offense.
On the defensive side of the puck, Dumba plays a physical style and has emerged as a real leader for head coach Dean Evason and the Wild. No one knows what the future holds for Dumba or whether or not he can call the Twin City home for an extended period of time, but one thing we do know is that the Wild are a much better hockey team when he’s in the lineup.
Rounding out the top-four is Karlstad, Sweden native and one of the most underrated blueliners in the NHL, Jonas Brodin. As a player, he’s an intelligent, steady, and graceful defenseman who has really come into his own over the past few seasons. He’s reliable, good with the puck on his stick, and uses his body effectively in all three zones.
On a team that’s experienced a lot of turnover over the past few seasons, Brodin has remained a steady presence for Bill Guerin and the Wild organization. I’m a big fan of him because he plays a simple game, and the Wild can trust him in any situation on the ice. Last season, he posted career highs in assists (26) and points (28) while averaging 21:33 worth of ice time. Expect more of the same from the silky-smooth Swede as we look ahead to next season.
Some players have to scratch and claw their way to not only make it to the National Hockey League but to make something of themselves once they arrive. Carson Soucy is one of those players. Drafted in the fifth round, 137th overall back in 2013, it seems as though Soucy is here to stay in the State of Hockey after spending the better part of the last three seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) with Minnesota’s affiliate club, the Iowa Wild.
In 55 regular-season games last season in “Minny,” Soucy tallied career-highs across the board in goals (seven), assists (seven), points (14), ice-time (15:38), and plus/minus (plus-16) and was found money for the Wild all season long. He also set career highs in blocked shots (50), takeaways (17), and hits (69), further cementing his presence on a talented Wild defense corps. I anticipate more of the same from him as the club looks ahead to the 2020-21 campaign.
Rounding out the top-six is Brandon, Manitoba native Calen Addison. Loaded with offensive flair and potential, this is a player who the Wild are super keen on as one of the organization’s top prospects. As we look towards next season, the Wild should give the 5-foot-9, 181-pound every opportunity to make the team out of camp. I mean, imagine Addison learning the ropes at the NHL level from the likes of Spurgeon, Suter, and Brodin on a daily basis?
Addison is an exceptional skater who loves to make plays and create offense. He can quarterback a power-play with the best of them, uses his body to good effect in his own end, and carries with him an impressive résumé with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League (WHL), and with Team Canada at last year’s 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. One of the best defensive prospects not yet in the National Hockey League is on the cusp of a roster spot. And I say he cracks the Wild’s opening day roster.
On the Outside Looking In
Should a significant injury occur, or if Evason decides to go for a different look against a more physical opponent, Brad Hunt should be first-up to answer the bell.
In 59 games last season, Hunt notched eight goals and 19 points. He’s a heart-and-soul type guy but likely a sacrifice in a (now) logjammed defense corps in Minny. However, like the true pro that he is, he’ll be ready to go, and then some, should opportunity knock on the Minnesota blue line.
Former NHL executive Brian Burke once proclaimed that “you can never have enough defensemen.” This bodes true for the Wild, who have an interesting depth piece at their disposal in the form of Sterling Heights, Michigan, native Greg Pateryn. After previous stints in Montreal and Dallas, he’s a serviceable defenseman who can certainly be relied upon to slot in at the drop of a hat. Although he only played in 20 games last year for the Wild, “Pats” was a solid pro and played hard, which definitely counts for something in the day-to-day rigors of the NHL.
Options Aplenty in the State of Hockey
Although a Return-to-Play format is still very much in the air, the Wild will be well-suited to kickstart the regular season with a deep and dynamic defense core. Not only does the team have several high-caliber players at their disposal, but they also have the depth and experience to combat a long and grueling season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all unfolds in the weeks ahead.