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2017-18 season preview: Defensemen

Suter leads group full of competition following Scandella trade during summer

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

This story is part of Wild.com's 2017-18 season preview.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

The 2016-17 season was just another year for Ryan Suter, who was again among the NHL's leaders in time on ice, averaging just shy of 27 minutes per contest.

Suter established a new career high with nine goals last season and also chipped in 31 assists, reaching 40 points for the third time in four full seasons with Minnesota. His plus-34 was tied with teammate Jason Zucker for the best mark in the League and a Wild franchise record. 

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau had experimented with Matt Dumba as Suter's partner through camp and the preseason, but decided on Tuesday to go back with a familiar pairing, placing Suter with Jared Spurgeon.

Boudreau said the pairing was one of the best in the League last season, with Suter posting a plus-34 and Spurgeon not far behind at plus-33. 

While Spurgeon has continually gotten better each year, he brought his game to new heights last season, scoring 10 goals and assisting on 28 others (a new career best), tallying his first season of more than 30 points.

Dumba will also be back with a familiar face, playing on the right side of Jonas Brodin, where he spent a bulk of last season. Dumba's explosive shot and a willingness to jump into the play offensively meshes well with Brodin's ability to skate and defend in his own zone, providing Boudreau and the Wild with a nice blend of skills.

"I think when [Dumba is] on, he could be, I don't know if we have a defenseman right now that could score 20 goals, but I think he's got the potential to score 20 at some point in his career," Boudreau said. "You need that guy with the big shot that has got a little bit of offensive mind to him. He's playing right now with a guy that's as good as anybody defensively in the league. I think it's a good combination."

Like several others on the roster, Brodin established a new career best in points (25) and went over 20 assists for the first time (22), despite playing in just 68 games. There's still room for growth in Brodin's game, and despite the fact he's entering his sixth NHL season, Brodin just turned 24 years old in July.

The Wild's final defensive pairing is where competition is expected to remain hot and heavy all season.

Kyle Quincey was signed over the summer to provide a veteran presence and some physicality. The left-hander will play most nights on his off hand, but the Wild isn't counting on Quincey to be an offensive force.

On the other side, Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson were both signed to one-way contracts during the summer. In some ways, this season could be viewed as sort of a make-or-break campaign.

Boudreau was pleased with how each player got better over the course of last season, but with Marco Scandella now in Buffalo, the Wild desperately needs one of these two youngsters to step up and help fill those skates.

"[They've been] given their chance, they both had summers where they were able to train, they both had a cup of coffee last year and knew what it's like to be here," Boudreau said. "They know the defensive scheme of things, so I don't want to use the term put up or shut up, but it's the term that the cream will rise to the top."

Carson Soucy, who played for Minnesota Duluth last season, brings more of a defensive-defenseman's mindset to the position and isn't afraid of contact. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Soucy had a good summer and a strong camp. If the Wild feels the need to bring in a bigger body, he could get the call.

The same goes for Nick Seeler, who Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said over the summer was the organization's most improved player last season.

Brennan Menell came out of nowhere over the summer, turning a fantastic development camp into an invite to Traverse City, where he played well enough to earn an invite to training camp and even a couple of preseason games. He also earned an entry-level contract, and if he earns his way onto the roster in Iowa, could find himself in the mix at some point.

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