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IN DEPTH: Shades of Maroon

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
Peter Chiarelli was on the ground. His team? High above North America en route to Buffalo for their next game.


The general manager was meeting with the media for his customary post-deadline state-of-the-franchise address. The NHL Trade Deadline countdown clock read all zeroes but, as these things often unfold, calls were still pouring into the League’s central registry.

“We have a trade coming,” Chiarelli warned. Hold on all your post-trade report cards, articles and video analysis. Nothing is official until it is official. The wait continued.

On the ground, reporters and the like awaited the news to break. High above, on the team charter, the airplane wifi spit out sporadic updates from across the NHL. Late trades were being announced, along with player assignments to the American Hockey League and quotes from general managers, trade analysis and more.

Chiarelli’s tease stood out as the players and staff aboard, some in the know and some not, wondered what pieces could be coming or going.

The wait, it seemed, was long. But in reality, it didn’t take much time until it was announced Patrick Maroon was headed to Edmonton by way of the Anaheim Ducks, in exchange for a 2016 fourth-round pick and defensive prospect Martin Gernat.

Chiarelli has made no bones about his desire to beef up the Oilers roster since taking over the team nearly a year ago. A heavier game is a better game in the eyes of the Stanley Cup-winning GM. The club’s late-deadline acquisition was another step in that direction.

The hulking 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger would soon prove to his new organization he is more than just a big body. He’s a good and humorous teammate, a physical presence, a leader, and the unique and rare blend of size and skill that complements some of the best players the Oilers can offer.

There are, in fact, many shades of Maroon.
 
DUCK ON A POND
 Photo by Getty Images
Under different circumstances, Maroon might still be a Duck. The numbers game strikes coldly in the business of professional sports.

An over-abundance of forwards created opportunity for the playoff-bound Ducks. At some point, with high numbers and young prospects knocking at the door, something had to give. That something was Maroon.

Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray summarized the move as a tough necessity.

“Patty Maroon has come a long way for this organization, and he was a real good guy for us. I thank him for that,” Murray said at the deadline’s conclusion. “I just felt there were too many people there, and it could have been awkward. It was tough, but now we’re in a real good spot as far as depth and versatility.”

Murray said he and Chiarelli kept an open dialogue, ahead of the deadline, conversing about what each organization was looking for, both in the short term and looking ahead. Maroon was the right fit for Chiarelli’s vision of the rebuilding Oilers. Thus, the trade ended an effective run in Anaheim for Maroon, who had thrived playing with two elite forwards — Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

Maroon, originally taken by the Philadelphia Flyers 161st overall in 2007, was traded to the Ducks in November of 2010. It wasn’t until the 2013-14 season that Maroon transitioned from prospect to full-timer NHL player. Maroon played 62 NHL games that season, scoring double-digit goals (11) and racking up 101 penalty minutes. He got his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs that season, playing 13 games for the Ducks and recording seven points (2-5-7).

In 2014-15, Maroon followed up a 34-point season with a productive playoff run, in which he contributed seven goals and four assists in 16 games.

“He goes to the net, and you can’t move him,” said Ducks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. “He’s big and strong, and what people don’t know about Patty is for a big man he has really good hands. You never think of that with a guy who will drop the gloves and protect his teammates, but he’s got really good hands.”

Maroon was having success playing with Getzlaf and Perry, learning what it takes to lead and be successful at the NHL level.

“I learned how to win,” he said. “And I found out how Getzlaf and Perry play every night, how they can take over a game and just about being vocal in the locker room and trying to be a leader.”

Maroon was well-liked in the Ducks locker room and still maintains friendships with his former teammates, although he’s not opposed to a little gamesmanship. When Maroon and the Oilers hosted the Ducks at Rexall Place on March 28, the winger played a prank on the visitors. The Ducks like to collect pucks from their victories, but Maroon made sure it wasn’t so easy for them on this night. He picked up the game puck following a 2-1 loss to the Ducks and threw it away.

“I’m a pretty funny guy, I think,” said Maroon. “I like to do some silly stuff, as you can tell from what I did the other game. Just stuff like that, little antics. I love to smile. I enjoy being in the NHL. I’m like a little kid when it comes to that stuff.”

The Ducks were sad to see their big-little kid go.

“Yeah, especially when you’ve had him for a few years and you see him grow,” said Boudreau. “He’s a good player. Edmonton got a good player.”
BIG KID BIG DREAMS
 Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
Maroon was no late bloomer. He was always big for his age group, growing up in St. Louis, MO.

“I was one of those big kids that loved food,” he laughed. He loved hockey as much as he loved food.

In his early days of minor hockey, Maroon was easily visible amongst the other children in the program.

“I was always big,” he said. “I always had good hands, I was always the standout guy. I was never fast, but at age eight, nine, 10, I kind of stood out. Obviously, when you get older, kids start to blossom and take over. You kind of see where you fit in. That’s how it went for me. I was always huge though. I was big in the waist, I just needed to grow into my body.”

Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
As Maroon grew physically, he also honed his hockey skills in his hometown. The programs did well by those young players, bringing in St. Louis Blues alumni like Kelly Chase and Jeff Brown to help motivate and bring kids along.

“When I started getting higher up in the ranks, the Blues alumni were really good to me,” said Maroon. In fact, Brown was one of Maroon’s youth hockey coaches.

“Having him in St. Louis as an NHL guy who played a lot of games, and was successful at, it teaching young kids how to be a pro and how to be professional, like moving on to junior or wherever you were going to college, was great. Growing up in St. Louis was good because now hockey is getting huge in St. Louis. There’s a couple prospects going number one overall from St. Louis, so it’s a huge plus.”

Maroon’s roots run deep in St. Louis, but it was when the young forward left his hometown and state that he truly began to flourish. Following two seasons in the NAHL (one in St. Louis) and a one-year stint with the OHL’s London Knights, in which Maroon scored 35 goals and finished with a team-leading 90 points, the winger began his professional career with Philadelphia’s farm team.

The young Maroon played 80 games for the Philadelphia Phantoms during the 2008-09 campaign, and potted 23 goals as a rookie, good for fourth on the team. It was a nice start to his career in the Flyers system, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The next year, 2010-11, Maroon was off to a hot start with five goals and three assists in nine games. But he found himself on the move. The Flyers traded the prospect to the Ducks, and it’s a good thing they did because that’s when Maroon really spread his proverbial wings.

That season, Maroon finished second on the Syracuse Crunch in scoring with 48 points (21-27-48) in just 57 games. That first year within the Ducks organization was a sign of things to come for Maroon. In 2011-12, he continued his upward trajectory. Trent Yawney took over as head coach of the Crunch, and he helped Maroon push his career even further ahead.

Maroon led his team in scoring that season, potting 32 goals and adding 42 assists. He finished the season third in the entire AHL in scoring. He showed enough to earn a two-game stint with the Ducks that year as well. Anaheim was allowing their prospect to simmer in the minors.

“I had a really good year in the American League where Trent Yawney was my head coach,” said Maroon. “He taught me how to be a professional and from there, I was leading the league in scoring. I could just feel it, that I could make the next level if I play like this when I go up. I was fighting. I was playing big, I was playing physical, sticking up for my teammates and it led to getting the chance to play two (NHL) games that year.”

Maroon, now 27, looks back on that season as the turning point in his career, his “I have arrived” moment, and the following year solidified that belief.

“The following year was the lockout. I had Yawney as my coach again, and just had another really good season.”

Maroon, who was again leading his team in scoring, was told by his coach that when the NHL lockout ended he would have an opportunity to play games with Anaheim.

He played 13 of them for the Ducks, scoring two goals and adding an assist. That stint gave him a taste of playing in the NHL and he wanted more.

“I kind of felt it,” Maroon said. “Once you get a sniff of it and you’re playing 13, 14, 15 games, you don’t want to go back. I just kind of stuck after that.”
BIG RIG IN OIL COUNTRY
 Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
"I can't wait for the Big Rig to get to the Oil rig. See you soon Oil fans!!"

Shortly after his trade to Edmonton became official, Maroon tweeted those words out to his followers. As it happens, a former Edmonton Oilers player gave Maroon that nickname, which fits in so well with Alberta.

Fittingly, the Big Rig now calls Oil Country home.

“Yeah, it sounds really good now since I’m in Edmonton.”

Leaving the Ducks was made easier by the welcome he received when he met the Oilers on their eastern road trip. He didn’t play in Buffalo, the game following the deadline, due to travel. However, he instantly felt comfortable in his new surroundings.

“They welcomed me with open arms when I first got there. The coaching staff, players and all the training and equipment staff have been really good to me so it’s been a really good fit so far,” said Maroon.

Big Rig didn’t take long to settle in. He scored in his Oilers debut on March 3 in Philadelphia against the team that drafted him. He’s secured a top-six role with the organization, carving a spot for himself alongside the highly-talented duo of Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle. Maroon was able to draw on his experience in Anaheim, playing with some of the NHL’s elite, but Edmonton presents a different challenge.

“Obviously, Getzy and Perrs are two different players. They’re more big, heavy, slow the game down and control the game to their speed. They play a more grinding game,” said Maroon. “With Connor, you have great speed in the neutral zone and I just try to play big on the boards, chip the puck out and make sure he gets it. He skates with speed, and Ebs has got really good skill and a good shot. It’s been good. They’re two different experiences, but it’s been good for me.”

Don’t sell Maroon short on his skill. He may be a big man, but his size and strength are only part of his game. Boudreau found out in Anaheim, and the Oilers head coach is discovering now, that Maroon has got some hands to pair with his towering physical presence.

“I think he’s got incredible hands,” said Oilers bench boss Todd McLellan. “Most of the teams he’s played on, outside of the National Hockey League, he’s been a top scorer. He has experience playing with elite players in Getzlaf and Perry. He knows how they think, how they maneuver and gets into position. It’s not surprising. Maybe more surprising is he didn’t do it as much earlier this year but he had an incredible playoff last year. Again, there’s some things he needs to work on we’ll try to help him with and if he does those I think he can even improve more.”

It’s one thing to bully your way to the net, it’s another to be able to make plays in tight and contested spaces, and another to finish. Since he got to Edmonton, he’s finished on numerous chances and has 11 points and five goals in 14 games with the Oil.

“I just tried to come in here, play my game and do it to the best of my abilities,” he said. “Playing with good linemates helps and playing lots of minutes helps and getting your confidence and feeling the way you’re capable of feeling. It’s been good. I give credit to all my linemates. They’ve been really good for me lately.”

It might be a very good thing for the Oilers that Maroon likes playing with who he’s matched up with. McLellan recently said he’s penciled Maroon in on McDavid’s left side heading into the 2016-17 season.

Patrick Maroon celebrates a goal against the San Jose Sharks. Photo by Getty Images.
“He’s brought the ability to be involved with teammates, the ability to score and he’s found a home playing with one of the best players in the world,” said McLellan. “That will be a real motivating factor for him, I hope, over the summer. There’s some things he needs to do and I’d like to play him on the left side with 97 to start next year. But Patty will dictate how well that goes and how well it doesn’t but I’m counting on him to do the things he needs to do.”

Maroon appreciates the vote of confidence and understands the onus is on him to make sure nothing changes in the eyes of the Oilers staff.

“The ball is in my court,” the winger said. “I’ve got to work really hard this summer. If I want it, I’ve got to work hard and come in in really good shape and prepare myself to play with him. That’s just not something you go out there and do. You’ve got to take the opportunity and you’ve got to play good with it. You’ve got to show the coaching staff, the management that you want to take that spot and you want to have it. That starts with prepping yourself in the summer and taking care of your body and doing the things you need to do to get better, which is my skating, and get my fitness up. You can always work on your fitness and hopefully good things happen. It’s been good for me playing with Connor and I want that to continue.”

It isn’t just on the ice where Maroon has found a fit in Edmonton. Much like in Anaheim, Maroon has endeared himself to the players on the Oilers roster.

“Great guy,” Boudreau said. “The guys loved him and he loved them. It doesn’t surprise me one iota; he’s going to be very well-liked by the group in the Edmonton locker room.”

It’s a bit surprising how fast a new face has found his place.

“It doesn’t always happen that easily, but I think he’s the type of player we’ve needed and wanted,” said McLellan. “He’s had success right away, he’s exposed himself to teammates as far as his personality and his ability to interact so he’s a likeable guy and his personality has allowed him to do that, I believe.”

McLellan sees how his winning experience in Anaheim carries over.

“He’s fit our locker room well, which for him he’s moved before but to come to a new team that is obviously not going to be in the playoffs and leave a team that’s going to push, in their case, hopefully for the Stanley Cup, is not an easy thing. But he’s really fit our room well. He’s shown leadership skills that we need, he’s brought the proper attitude in and that’s just what he’s done off the ice.”

McLellan, who coached the San Jose Sharks for seven years, knew of Maroon well before the trade. The bench boss isn’t surprised with Maroon’s on-ice contributions, but is finally getting a picture of the player as a person.

“I think he really enjoys playing the game,” said McLellan. “He has fun with it, he’s able to have a little comic relief every now and then but he also has a serious side to him. He’s already created a presence in the locker room that’s real positive. I think players look to him and that’s only been a month.”

Indeed, Maroon is a colourful character who has contributed both on and off the ice for the Oilers in such a short amount of time. He’s under contract for two more seasons, making him a part of the team’s plans moving forward. If he continues to mesh, produce and lead, the Big Rig will surely drill his place into the hearts of the Oil Country faithful.

By Chris Wescott/edmontonoilers.com


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