For all the talk there has been this preseason about managing Ryan Suter
's minutes, the player now skating to his right doesn't seem to be getting as much attention.
Throughout training camp, Suter has been flanked by Jared Spurgeon. Last season, Suter played over half his even-strength minutes with Jonas Brodin. By comparison, Suter played over 960 minutes at 5-on-5 with Brodin, and 382 with Spurgeon.
In many ways it's easy to overlook Spurgeon because of the silent and unnoticed contributions he makes for the Wild.
Playing with Suter this preseason though, Spurgeon is excited for the new challenges it might present.
"Whenever you play, you want to play against the best," Spurgeon said. "This year with the group of d-men that we have here, we're going to play pretty evenly. I'm definitely looking forward to this year, and if we do get more minutes, it's going to be fun to play them."
By no means has he been sheltered—Spurgeon has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per game in each of the past four seasons—but riding shotgun with the Wild's workhorse could mean an uptick in miles traversed for the fifth-year pro.
And Spurgeon knows how he can be successful no matter how he's deployed.
"Being a smaller guy, with my speed, I'm hoping to be a bit more offensive in jumping up into the rush more," Spurgeon said. "Defensively, just always being solid, and not being a liability in the back-end. I'm always looking for ways to get better."
Head Coach Mike Yeo has said he thinks the Wild's defensemen have room to grow offensively. Spurgeon agreed, and said there are plenty of ways to make offensive contributions as a defensemen without showing up in the box score.
"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. "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."
Last season, behind the top pairing of Suter and Brodin, no defenseman was on the ice for more of Minnesota's even-strength goals than Spurgeon, at 48. The Wild play an up-tempo game, giving defensemen the opportunity to make an offensive impact.
"Points will come if the team is playing well and scoring goals, but if you're getting up the ice, and helping the other way, you'll get rewarded as well," Spurgeon said. "With our d-corps, with how well we all move, we're very smart, and we'll be able to pick our spots, and help out offensively."
Cardinally speaking, playing Spurgeon (a right-handed shot) with Suter (a left-handed shot) could make things more directionally comfortable.
"That could open some things up through the neutral zone [for Suter]," Yeo said on the first day of training camp. "But I would say more specifically the offensive zone—getting some pucks coming across to him, having somebody that would be on their forehand, that could help him and benefit him to create a little bit more offense."
Suter said it's a partnership that could benefit both defensemen.
"It gives us both flexibility; it gives me more flexibility playing with a right-handed shot," he said. "It will allow me to be more offensive."
Wherever Spurgeon plays, part of the objective will be to continue to drive puck possession at the very high rate he's done in prior seasons, even if Spurgeon doesn’t know how he's getting it done.
"I'm not sure," Spurgeon said. "I just try to get it up to the forwards as quick as possible. Being smaller, and always being smaller growing up, I had to learn to be quick, and move the puck quick so you could get up the ice. With the group of forwards we have, they can hang onto the puck for a long time in the offensive zone as well, so that helps a lot."
Spurgeon has found a way to help the Wild generate shot-attempts while limiting those of their opponents. Last season, Spurgeon's 53.76 shot-attempts percentage was 23rd in the League among defensemen who played at least 1,000 minutes. His numbers have been improving over the past four seasons.
Spurgeon plays the game quickly, a calling card for the Wild, and something Yeo has made part of Minnesota's DNA. Given the type of player Spurgeon is, he fits right into the gameplan.
"One of the big things for our team is transitions, so when we can get going back on the other team, and catching them out there, it's huge for our offense," Spurgeon said. "We're just trying to play as fast as possible without making mistakes."