ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jared Spurgeon is part of a new duo on defense this season, a partnership that put in reps during training camp.
But he was also the welcome committee for many more players as the Wild's captain.
"Everyone's been awesome coming in and worked hard, and we've had a good camp," he said. "Now it's the real stuff."
An offseason shakeup added seven new names to the Wild's opening-night roster, with most in action Friday at Honda Center in Game No. 1 vs. the Ducks.
And while Spurgeon isn't embarking on a fresh start like some of his teammates, the longest-tenured player on the team enters his second season as captain still galvanized by the beginning of a new season.
"Every year is exciting," he said. "Obviously you go into summer and you watch the playoffs, watch the Finals, and that's where you want to be at the end of the year."
Most of the changes to the Wild happened in Spurgeon's neck of the woods, on the blue line.
Ryan Suter was bought out and Carson Soucy was scooped up by Seattle in the expansion draft while Ian Cole and Brad Hunt signed elsewhere.
Enter Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov, Jon Merrill and Jordie Benn, with Goligoski taking Suter's spot next to Spurgeon on the Wild's top pairing.
"Communication is the biggest thing," said Spurgeon, who has noticed Goligoski joins the offense more frequently than Suter did. "When one guy's up in the rush obviously, you have to have one guy back. Just reading and reacting off each other."
Spurgeon isn't a stranger to the offensive zone, but he's made the most difference to the Wild in his own end as one of its cleanest defenders.
Last season, the 31-year-old committed just three penalties and finished runner-up for the Lady Byng Trophy, which recognizes sportsmanship combined with a high quality of playing ability. Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin, who took just one penalty, received the award.
"It was a big honor," Spurgeon said. "But I think at the same time you don't really think about that going into the year. As a defenseman, you just want to be reliable on the ice and be put out in all situations and just know you're not going to get the team in trouble. I think myself being a smaller defenseman growing up, just learning the position a bit different than some guys, I've always been that way."
Also among his responsibilities is being the Wild's leader, which he showcases in times like this when the team has new arrivals.
"Having a captain like Jared Spurgeon, who is so inviting to everyone to come in and play and not only play their role and be comfortable with that but also the room dynamic," coach Dean Evason said. "He allows people to lead beside him, not underneath him. That's exciting."
Merrill was the first to skate as the Wild's sixth defenseman, getting the nod in the opener over Benn after they auditioned at training camp to complete the Wild's blue line.
"We're excited about having the depth of our defense," Evason said. "All seven guys have conducted themselves extremely well, not only through preseason games but practice and off the ice [they've] fit in wonderfully with our group. It's too bad everybody can't play, but we had to make a decision."
Merrill was one of five players making his Wild debut, with Goligoski, Kulikov and forwards Frederick Gaudreau and Brandon Duhaime the others.
Duhaime suiting up was especially meaningful since it was his first NHL game.
After wearing No. 65 in training camp, Duhaime switched to 21 —a number he wore in the USHL, where he won a championship with Tri-City.
"We had some success in Tri-City, so I figured I'd stick with it," Duhaime said.
The return to an 82-game schedule isn't the only familiar feature being reintroduced.
Because the Wild is fully vaccinated, players can get back to dining out on the road after they were mostly confined to the arena and hotel last season.
"You get to see the cities a little bit more," center Joel Eriksson Ek said. "It was tough last year. It was a lot of time in the hotel. I think we made the best out of it, just hanging out a lot together. But yeah, for sure it's nice going back to normal a little bit."