The Minnesota Wild department at The Hockey Writers is starting a series that will look at the franchise’s top 10 players all-time in honor of their 20th anniversary last season. THW’s Wild team consisting of myself, Justin Walters, Mariah Holland, and Devon Platana voted on this list, and it will begin with the 10th spot as we work our way down to the best player in franchise history.
Jared Spurgeon narrowly won the fifth spot over Pierre-Marc Bouchard. It might be a surprise to some to see him ranked so highly, but he’s arguably the best defenseman this organization has ever had. It wouldn’t be surprising if he were to jump over both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the near future as he cements himself as the best defenseman and arguably the third most valuable player in franchise history.
Every player has had a path to the NHL, but Spurgeon’s was very unique, and frankly, remarkable. He was drafted in the sixth round by the New York Islanders in the 2008 NHL Draft. He played with the Spokane Chiefs in the Western Hockey League (WHL) for five seasons but never ended up materializing with the Islanders and was eventually let loose.
Spurgeon was a face of their team, and he was a key player in the WHL Championship and Memorial Cup roster back in 2008. He is in the Top 35 Chiefs in 35 Years — a very prestigious honor in the organization. After what he accomplished in those five seasons, there is no question that he left a lasting impression.
Spurgeon really was fantastic in his tenure with the Chiefs. He registered 37 goals and 170 points (0.64 PPG) and was +64 in those 266 games.
As a junior free agent, the Wild saw something brilliant in him. He would then be invited to the development camp and would ultimately sign with the organization just before the 2010-11 season. It’s really amazing what Spurgeon has accomplished, as very few late-round draft picks could say the same.
After nearly going to Europe, the Wild gave him an opportunity, and he passed with flying colors. He exceeded expectations right from the beginning, and it was clear that he was going to be a special player.
Finally, after two three-year deals and a four-year contract, the Wild inked Spurgeon to a seven-year extension worth $7.575 million annually, which is the richest cap hit in franchise history. It is slightly higher than Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s identical deals. He is currently the 16th highest-paid blueliner in the league, and rightfully so. Not only did his play on the ice and character warrant a lucrative long-term deal, but he would become the second full-time captain in team history after the departure of long-time captain Mikko Koivu.
Tenure With the Wild
The key reason why Spurgeon has become a fixture around the league is because of his high-end two-way game. He has become a more well-known player thanks to the analytics revolution. It’s not just the underlying numbers that paint him as one of the most underrated defensemen in the league, but it can clearly be seen through the eye test. His hockey IQ and positioning are remarkable, and it really differentiates him from other defensemen. He’s always in the right place at the right time as a result.
Spurgeon is also very versatile, as the Wild utilize him regardless of the situation. He has been a staple on the power play and penalty kill throughout his career. While he’s very effective on special teams, it’s worth noting that he’s known for being one of the top defensemen at even strength.
According to PuckIQ, Spurgeon has faced 36.9 percent of his ice time against “elite” competition since 2014-15. That’s considerably high, so playing difficult minutes is something he can add to his résumé too.
Spurgeon has 21.1 wins above replacement (WAR) — a metric that estimates how many wins a player is worth compared to a replacement-level player — since entering the league as a rookie in 2010. Since his arrival to the league, that number ranks fifth highest in the league, just behind Victor Hedman, Mark Giordano, Alex Pietrangelo, and Ryan Ellis. That truly encompasses the value he has brought to this franchise so far in his career.
It’s pretty amazing that he only has 120 penalty minutes in 707 games, and it’s because of his positional play and his ability to strategically defend.
His 707 games played ranks third all-time, and assuming he remains in Minnesota for the remainder of his career, he will eventually pass Koivu and become the sole holder of the games played category. He leads all defensemen in franchise history in goals (89), power play goals (32), game-winning goals (15), blocked shots (1,199), and hits (615). Furthermore, among defensemen, he is third in franchise history in plus/minus (48) and second in shots (1,150).
Why Is Spurgeon Deserving?
There should be no questions whether or not Spurgeon is deserving of the fifth spot in the all-time list. The only question is whether he should be ranked higher, which there is an argument that he should be regarded as the best defenseman in team history. From development camp invitee to currently the longest-tenured player in the organization, Spurgeon has been an elite blueliner in his time in Minnesota.
Whether it’s the analytics or the eye test, he is one of the best defensemen in the league. His impact is evident, and the value he brings is immense.
Spurgeon is finally getting national recognition thanks to analytics, but that hasn’t kept him from getting rewarded. He has received votes for the Lady Byng Trophy in eight different seasons, finishing as high as second place this past season. The trophy is awarded to the player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” That’s pretty impressive and speaks volumes. Furthermore, he has received votes for the Norris Trophy — awarded to the best defensemen in the league — in three different seasons.
Spurgeon is the type of defenseman that every team desires. He is a near-perfect player and does everything right with and without the puck. There is one thing for sure, and it’s that he’s arguably the biggest success story in franchise history.
Aaron Heckmann is a journalism & broadcasting student. He covers the Wild for The Hockey Writers & Zone Coverage’s 10krinks. His data-driven articles are focused on solving problems, telling stories, and discovering unique storylines. Find him on Twitter @aaron_heckmann.