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Today’s edition of Wild Watch features defenseman Jared Spurgeon in what is a critical year for both the organization and Spurgeon individually.
A Look Back
Last season, 25-year-old Jared Spurgeon set the bar high among Minnesota defenders and had a career year of his own scoring nine goals from the blue line. Throughout his tenure with the club (entering his 6th season/295 GP), Spurgeon has taken strides in his game each year and has come a long way since being drafted 156th overall in the 6th round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Widely acclaimed as the Wild’s best all-around defender, he also provides an offensive threat from the back end, something that has been thoroughly lacking in Minnesota since the team’s inception. At just 180 pounds sopping wet, Spurgeon can shoot the puck with the best of them and play a solid defensive game in his own zone, something any level-headed general manager drools over. His high level of two-way play is a rare commodity in the league today, and admirably so.
At the start of the offseason, trade rumors galore clouded the status of Spurgeon’s future in Minnesota. (I jumped on the bandwagon myself while fellow THW Wild contributor Alli Baker did not). The breakout of fellow right-handed defenseman Matt Dumba didn’t help matters much, and with youngsters Christian Folin and Mike Reilly in the mix, questions arose regarding Spurgeon’s level of “expendability,” if any. The other factor simply being if Wild brass can afford to hang onto him after he’s assuredly due a hefty pay raise next summer. Spurgeon currently has a manageable $2.67 million cap hit in 2015-16. However, General manager Chuck Fletcher has slapped those ideas down on numerous occasions and seems determined to keep Spurge around. The question remains, at what cost would it take in order to attain more moments like this?
A Look Ahead
As he enters a contract year, Spurgeon could easily produce a double-digit goal total for the Wild and again be a standout for the club as the team’s best all around/two-way defender. It appears that (at least for now) he will be paired alongside Ryan Suter rather than Jonas Brodin to start the year, as Michael Russo of the Star Tribune reported from training camp. A right-handed blue liner on the top pairing coupled with the left-handed Suter is something head coach Mike Yeo should have experimented with much earlier, preferably last season when both Brodin and Suter’s numbers were down, but hey, better late than never.
However, a big question that pops up each season is Spurgeon’s health. Of his five years spent in Minnesota, he has yet to play more than 70 games in a single season due to various ailments and injuries. The 2014-15 campaign was ravaged early on by injury and sickness throughout the lineup. From the mumps to viruses, Spurgeon participated. It may sound redundant, but it is vital that Spurgeon remains healthy throughout the year, or at least avoids missing any significant amount of time during the season. With that being said, Spurgeon may be in store for a great season in 2015-16, his best yet.
Tough to imagine indeed, but I still believe that by the end of next year, Fletcher is going to begin the debacle of choosing between Spurge and Dumba. Granted, Niklas Backstrom’s contract will be off the books, and who knows what other changes could be in store dependent upon the success or failure of the upcoming year, but it could surely be quite dramatic to see how it all unravels.
Folks, we are just six days away from opening night. Any of y’all attending Thursday’s tilt in Denver? I’ll be there, and I already can’t sleep.