The doors have officially opened a Tria Rink for Minnesota Wild training camp, and with it, a new era has been ushered in. On Sunday general manager Bill Guerin announced that defenseman Jared Spurgeon will become the Minnesota Wild’s next captain. Spurgeon is the franchise’s second full-time captain, taking over the title from Mikko Koivu after he and the Wild parted ways this past offseason.
Guerin cited many reasons for the decision, but one point he repeatedly made was that “Jared is a guy that everybody in our locker room respects. We know we can count on him.” That respect, as Guerin put it, extends throughout the club. “Nobody in the organization that was against this decision.”
The decision comes after weeks of speculation that the choice was between Spurgeon and Zach Parise. Parise was a captain during his time with the New Jersey Devils, and was named as an alternate captain when he signed with Minnesota. He certainly has the tenacity and personality on the ice that exhibits captain-like traits. But Parise publicly questioned his own future with the Wild before the dismissal of Paul Fenton and waived his no-move clause at last season’s trade deadline, sending strong “I’m already out the door” vibes. It’s tough to come back to the locker room and captain the team after that.
The newest Wild captain was selected by the New York Islanders in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. When he wasn’t signed, he returned to the Spokane Chiefs (WHL) and re-entered the draft. Every team passed on him the second time through. Minnesota invited him for a tryout where he auditioned for the job at the annual Traverse City Prospect Tournament. The Wild brass was so enamored with his play they awarded him with a contract. Spurgeon only played 23 games in the AHL, establishing himself as a solid second pair defenseman with Marco Scandella even though doubters said his 5’9″ frame was too small to play defense in the NHL.
His chance to move up to the top pairing took a detour when the Wild signed Ryan Suter, and 19-year-old first-round pick Jonas Brodin showed he could play on his off-side. Yet, since 2014 Spurgeon ranks No. 2 among all defensemen in Expected Goals Against while also providing enough offense to crack the top 35 for points over the same time span. He’s the preferred defense partner of Suter, an all-star defenseman in his own right, and Spurgeon has had praise extolled upon him by three head coaches and two general managers.
Ultimately, the selection of Spurgeon over Parise comes down to the message Guerin wants to send to the team. Spurgeon might be small in stature, but he’s never used it as an excuse. He has enough tools to be good, but it’s his hockey IQ that allows him to avoid contact, be in the right position defensively and anticipate where the puck will be to cash in offensively.
Spurgeon was a late-round pick, yet he’s thrived as a top-pair defenseman. This shows all players that this team will provide a chance to have success no matter where they were selected. It is also a signal to first-rounders that they can’t rest on their laurels — skill can only take you so far in this league. To get to the top, a player also needs to put in the work to realize their potential. Finally, just because a player might make $98 million doesn’t mean they get special treatment. Money won’t become a factor in management’s decision making.
Spurgeon embodies all of that.
Guerin set out to change the culture of the Minnesota Wild as soon as the Wild were eliminated from the Edmonton bubble. Once Eric Staal was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, he let Koivu know he wasn’t coming back. The GM then brought aboard a new Director of Amateur Scouting to help shape the new future of the franchise. Now he’s made a bold statement about who is going to lead the Wild into the future. Sure, Parise and Suter may still have “A’s” on their chest, but their version of the Wild is over. This is now Spurgeon’s team, a team that values how hard you are willing to work to achieve success over player size and draft status.