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On-Ice Review: Spurgeon's Impact Still Major

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Over the next few months, will take a closer look at some of the areas of the Minnesota Wild's 2015-16 season, from players, to systems, and everything between.

Perhaps the only thing more comforting than the 22-minute-plus safety net Jared Spurgeon provides the Minnesota Wild game-in and game-out is the stability that comes with Spurgeon's recent contract extension.

Spurgeon, who has blossomed into one of the NHL's most consistent and reliable defensemen, had the efficiency acknowledged this season when he signed a four-year contract extension that kicks in the upcoming NHL year.

Though he had a career offensive season, Spurgeon's contributions — both offensive and defensive — extend far past what's in an average box score.

Spurgeon's usage was second to Ryan Suter this season on the Wild, and whomever the coach, whatever the situation, there was never any hesitancy to deploy Spurgeon. He plays in all three phases of the game, getting time on the second power-play unit and the penalty kill. He's on the ice when the Wild is protecting a lead or chasing a deficit. And Spurgeon plays against top competition, drawing the matchup along with Suter of defending the opposition's top forwards.

That being said, Spurgeon still managed to be a consistent driver of puck possession, scoring chances, and goal scoring for the Wild. He had a relative shot-attempt percentage of 3.83, meaning the Wild was that many points higher than its overall average possession figure when Spurgeon was on the ice.

It's the type of player Spurgeon has consistently been for the Wild, again, in such a manner that the club locked him up for another four seasons. Over the past three, Spurgeon's impact has really shown, and he is 11th among NHL defensemen in relative shot-attempts percentage, emblematic of how impactful he has been.

Comparable plaers since 2013 Based on possession impact
player relative Shot-attempts percentage games played
p.k. subban 4.12 232
t.j. brodie 3.98 232
jared spurgeon 3.93 210
brent burns 3.73 151
jake muzzin 3.64 234
aaron ekblad 3.47 159

Spurgeon also blocked more shot-attempts at even-strength (116) than any other player. There's a territory that comes with shot-blocking that is derisive: To block a shot requires the other team to have possession of the puck. Teams and players that block shots at higher volumes tend to have the puck less, and, win fewer games.

But in Spurgeon's case, the shot-blocking doesn't go hand-in-hand with a bad possession player. Rather, it is indicative of a player who, in instances when the Wild doesn't have the puck, is effective at clogging shot lanes.

"The analytics show great possession numbers, they show somebody that we tend to win the shifts whenever he's on the ice," General Fletcher said after Spurgeon signed his contract extension in December. "But you can just look at his ice time and the way we utilize him, and he's just entering the prime of his career."

Before this season began, Spurgeon said he wanted to increase his offensive impact, becoming more involved in the rush and the attacking zone.

The raw numbers support that Spurgeon was successful in doing so, establishing new career highs in goals (11) and points (29). As Fletcher said though, the underlying numbers tell a more complete story in terms of Spurgeon's effectiveness.

He was on the ice for 55 even-strength Wild goals, second to only Suter among Minnesota skaters. Likewise, the Wild generated a high percentage of scoring chances when Spurgeon was on the ice; the 618 he was out for were again only second to Suter among Minnesota skaters.

Part of that has to do with usage and the minutes Spurgeon plays but, as a rate, Suter and Spurgeon were one and two among Wild defensemen in scoring chances per 60 minutes. With Spurgeon on the ice, the Wild also generated more scoring chances for than it had against, another call to Fletcher's assessment of a player consistently putting his team in a position to succeed.

Spurgeon also does so many small things that are hard to quantify or place an exact value on. He's become workmanlike in going back to retrieve a loose puck, making a quick play, and starting the Wild off on the offensive.

Quick to credit the work of his forwards backchecking, Spurgeon has played perfectly into the Wild's system: Forwards gap up in the neutral zone to force dump-ins, and mobile defensemen, like Spurgeon, go back toward the goal line, winning footraces, and then decisively shifting gears toward a breakout.

But all of that in tandem creates offense. Three points can be awarded on a goal, but the efforts of five skaters might create it.

"There are only two assists on a goal, and sometimes it might be that third pass, but that one might be the most important one," Spurgeon said. "Whether you're making the play up the ice to get the play started, or if you're just having a good gap to make the other team turn it over, and then someone else goes up the ice to get the goal, it's a whole team effort."

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