Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suter's new Defense Partner
If reports coming out of Philly and Nashville are true, Ryan Suter’s old defense partner is set to make 27 million dollars this upcoming calendar year.
His new defense partner? $535,000
The Star Tribune’s Mike Russo reports that Jared Spurgeon will pair with Suter to form the Wild’s top defensive tandem.
Spurgeon certainly has large skates to fill, literally and figuratively. Suter has been skating with perennial Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber in Nashville over the past few seasons where the 6’4”, 232 pound behemoth complimented his steady partner with a booming slap shot and a strong physical presence.
Spurgeon on the other hand, measures in at a gentleman’s 5’9” and weighs just 185 pounds.
Critics have questioned Suter’s ability to play without the security of a Shea Weber next to him. Few would call the diminutive Spurgeon an adequate replacement.
However, Spurgeon does bare a resemblance to Suter’s last defensive partner before Weber: Brian Rafalski. Suter and Rafalski paired up to form team USA’s best defensive unit as they took home the silver medal.
Following a standout career at the University of Wisconsin Rafalski found success plying his trade in Finland while his 5’10” stature scared away NHL clubs.
He eventually broke into the league in 1999 as a 26 year old rookie. In New Jersey, Rafalski quickly established himself as one of the game’s smoothest skating defenseman, bolstering a Devils blue line that already included future Hall of Famers Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.
The Devils would go on to win the Cup in Rafalski’s rookie year as well three years later in 2003.
Rafalksi retired following the 2011 season but not before adding another Stanley Cup with Detroit and that silver medal from Vancouver to his impressive trophy haul.
More importantly, he paved the way for future short defensemen to find success in the physical NHL.
Now the Wild hope that Spurgeon can follow a similar path.
Like Rafalski, teams dismissed Spurgeon as a top prospect due to his small stature. The Islanders eventually drafted the former Spokane Chief in the 6th round in 2008. Spurgeon never signed with the club however, and the Wild snatched him up in 2010.
He made his NHL debut in 2010-11 scoring 12 points in 53 games after a 23 game stint in the AHL.
In 2011-12, Spurgeon emerged as one of new Head Coach Mike Yeo’s most reliable players. The 22 year old averaged a team leading 21:35 time on ice per game despite being the youngest of all Wild defensemen.
Spurgeon, again like Rafalski, makes up for his lack of size with superb positioning. He also reads the game exceptionally well for a young defenseman, breaking up odd man rushes with a smart stick and youthful exuberance.
When Spurgeon does make a mistake as young defenseman often do, his skating prowess allows him to recover.
Sometimes the unconventional method works as well.
Offensively, Spurgeon's NHL numbers have been a far cry from his Junior production. In his last season in the WHL, Spurgeon produced 51 points in 54 games. Now with the ever-present Suter to his left, his offensive game could finally take off at the professional level.
Suter will provide covering support (just as Stevens in New Jersey and Nicklas Lidstrom in Detroit did for Rafalski) that will allow Spurgeon to take more risks offensively. He will find himself more often than not on the offensive side of odd-man rushes rather than defending them constantly.
The result will be a jump in his points production from a respectable 23 in 2011-12 into the 35-40 range this upcoming season.
Couple in Suter's consistent 40-50 point output, and the two form a formidable two-way pair that will lead the Wild in the near and distant future.