EDMONTON, ALBERTA - Thirteen months ago, Jared Spurgeon made his NHL debut on his 21st birthday in Calgary. Wikipedia was needed to figure out who exactly this 5-9 defenseman was.

Well, not only has Spurgeon never left, but a season later, the second-year Edmonton native is on the Wild's top defense pairing with 21-year-old bosom buddy Marco Scandella.

Spurgeon is the only Wild defenseman to have played in all 36 games and leads the team in time on ice (775 minutes, 50 seconds) and average ice time per game (21:33 a game).

"It's a really good story for our organization," coach Mike Yeo said of Spurgeon, a free-agent pickup in the 2010 offseason after the former Islanders draft pick went unsigned, then undrafted in a second go-round.

"I mean, what a find. It's like just picking up a first-rounder, a high first-rounder, the way he goes out and plays the game. It's hard to say it, but he's a great leader for us. Every night he's so consistent in the way he approaches the game, in the way he goes out and plays."

But could Yeo, who coached Spurgeon at the start of last season in Houston and in the Calder Cup playoffs, ever have imagined he'd be playing Spurgeon some nights 25, 26, 27 minutes a game?

"I actually could," Yeo said. "We had those discussions last year trying to figure out if he should be called up or even signed. He just goes out and does it. He did it in Traverse City, he did it in training camp and he did it for us in Houston.

"Of course, you don't know how a young guy like that grows up, but you can tell from his personality that he's very confident and has a strong sense of how he needs to play the game."

Spurgeon said: "It's nice when you get these minutes. When you have the coach behind you and show that much faith in you, it gives you extra confidence. You know if you make a mistake, you can go right back out there and redeem yourself."

Koivu hopes to play vs. Avs Wild captain Mikko Koivu skated hard again Thursday, but he missed his fourth game in a row because of a leg injury, sitting out against the Oilers.

Yeo said the team hopes that after the upcoming three-day break, Koivu will be ready to play Monday against Colorado.

Jeff Taffe, recalled from Houston, played his third game of the season, and Colton Gillies was scratched for a second game in a row.

On Taffe, Yeo joked he expected "three goals, two assists, two fights, eight hits, but I don't want to put too much pressure on him."

Two more scratches Veteran defensemen Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin were scratched -- Zanon for a third time in five games, Lundin for a second consecutive game.

Justin Falk, after missing 11 games because of torn cartilage in his rib cage, played a second game in a row.

"This type of injury, it was tough to breathe, let alone get out of bed and move, but I'm happy it healed this quickly," Falk said. "The game I have to play, I have to be 100 percent so I can be physical and forceful with my body."

One has to wonder how long the Wild can continue to stick with eight healthy defensemen.

"Whoever's been out of the lineup, they've had great attitudes," Yeo said.

Etc. • With the Wild off for Christmas, Spurgeon and Kyle Brodziak stayed in Edmonton, while Dany Heatley and Nick Johnson will return to their hometowns of Calgary for the holiday.

• Defenseman Clayton Stoner was lost in the second period Thursday because of a groin injury.