When it comes to the Minnesota Wild's defense, age is just a number, according to the oldest blue liner on the team, Ryan Suter
. Assistant Coach Rick Wilson agreed.
"What they're doing is they're maturing in their position," Wilson said. "They're not there yet, they're not fully ripe, they're not fully mature, but they've been maturing, and getting lots of games under them, and situational experiences. That all lends itself to getting better."
Suter is the only Wild defenseman north of 30. When it comes to that group, with the likes of Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella (25 years old), Christian Folin (24), Jonas Brodin (22), and Matt Dumba (21), Suter is older, but knows what his young teammates are capable of.
"Age is one thing, but how they play, and how they carry themselves on the ice is a whole other thing," Suter said. "You could be 19, 20 years old and play like a 25-, 30-year-old, so I don't think age really matters. Off the ice it does—they're a little bit younger, they don't have the families—but on the ice it's just performance."
Off the ice, Suter has begun to see things more differently. He's become involved in the Ronald McDonald House as an ambassador—his wife Becky sits on the board of directors—and has begun to fine-tune his hockey footprint.
"You don't realize that stuff until you get older, and you have kids," Suter said. "I used to be young, and not think about those things."
On Saturday, Suter attended the Ronald McDonald House's annual gala in Minneapolis, which he said raised $450,000 for the charity.
"You don't really realize it until you're part of it," Suter said. "It was our first year going to the gala, and it was amazing to see the kids, and the stories, and the amount of money that they made."
The gala came on the heels of Ryan and Becky putting on a "Skate With the Greats" event at Xcel Energy Center that raised $50,000 for Ronald McDonald House.
"I'm in a position to be able to help out other people," Suter said. "Whenever you can, you want to do that, and you want to use that. There are not a lot of times when you have that opportunity to help out, and give back, and kids look up to us. Anyway we can help out, we want to."
The on-ice portion of the game is certainly very much on Suter's mind. He said unlike in his first three years in Minnesota, the Wild has what he thinks is "probably our core group now that's going to be here for a long time."
That group is rolling out six very capable defensemen. It could mean a reduction in Suter's minutes, but more importantly means a deeper group of Wild defensemen.
"There's been a lot made of that, but to be fair, the first few years Ryan was with us he was carrying the mail there for a lot of the younger guys," Wilson said. "He was asked to do a lot on a consistent basis in every situation. Now these younger players who we've talked about maturing, they're ready to absorb and take on more responsibilities."
Head Coach made Yeo said reducing Suter's minutes has been talked about a lot, and the feeling is that it could help his productivity.
Yeo made it clear though that however much Suter plays, his time on ice will still be high.
"To drop Ryan Suter's minutes considerably would be pretty foolish," Yeo said. "He's one of the top defensemen in the National Hockey League, and we have to make sure we're utilizing him the best we can."
Suter has said multiple times during training camp he feels the Wild's defensive group stacks up to any in the League.
"We have a lot of depth and we have a lot of dynamic to our d-corps," Suter said. "All of us can skate; all of us can make plays."
The playmaking, the ability to defend and play big and important minutes, it's all things Suter brought with him to Minnesota when he signed in 2012. A Wisconsin native, Minnesota isn't where he spent his formative years, but Suter's connection to the State of Hockey has always been deeply rooted.
"I grew up coming up here and playing in hockey tournaments all the time," Suter said. "My wife is from here. I'm three-and-a-half hours away, so my family gets to come up a lot. It feels like home now."