LAS VEGAS -- The St. Paul apartment Carson Soucy moved into after spending Wild training camp in a hotel came furnished, but he and his girlfriend Shyla have started to put their personal touches on the place.
They decorated a Christmas tree, scattered candles around the space and tacked pictures on the refrigerator.
“We’ve started to make it kind of our own,” Soucy said.
The 25-year-old rookie has also looked right at home on the Wild blue line, the unexpected breakout star of the team’s Jekyll-and-Hyde season thus far.
Primed for a return to the minors when the team convened for camp in September, Soucy moved up the depth chart after an injury to veteran Greg Pateryn and won a spot on the opening night roster, edging out Louie Belpedio.
Now, he’s playing the best hockey of his career at both ends of the rink from his unnatural side — the right, despite shooting lefthanded — on the second pairing next to Jonas Brodin.
And although the team hasn’t told him he’s here to stay, Soucy is certainly skating like that’s his intention, a fitting beginning to his NHL career considering the journey Soucy took to get to this point.
“Once you’re up here, you don’t want to go back,” he said. “This is what you worked for your whole life. You better keep working to stay here.”
Slow and steady
Growing up in the farming community of Irma, Alberta, about a two-hour drive southeast of Edmonton, Soucy started skating when he was 3 years old.
But his journey through the ranks was a slow one; Soucy competed at the Triple-A midget level until he was 18. He was cut by the Western Hockey League’s Oil Kings — news that made him feel the NHL might be a long shot — and he played just one season of junior A hockey.
But he wasn’t discouraged. Soucy had settled into his 6-foot-5 frame, adapting to a growth spurt that added about six inches to his height, and he was exploring Division I schools since that option offered more time to work on his game.
So, after getting drafted in the fifth round (137th overall) by the Wild in 2013, Soucy started at Minnesota Duluth.
“The whole process was exactly what he needed,” said Soucy’s dad, Mike.
Soucy was a regular as a freshman, arriving as a lanky defender who had a physical edge and a competent transition game. But he left four seasons later with more strength and better puck and skating skills.
“He improved a lot over his time here,” said Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin. “A lot of that is going through that learning curve, being able to play those guys as freshmen. If they made mistakes, they were still getting back in the lineup and could play through that stuff and learn from it.”
In 2017, Soucy embarked on his first full-length season in the American Hockey League and went on to make his NHL debut in 2018 with the Wild.
He appeared in three games and stuck around for the playoffs, but when Soucy returned for training camp in the fall, he had a forgettable showing and spent the entire season with Iowa.
“I just don’t think mentally he was ready,” Mike Soucy said, “and I think he’d be the first to admit that.”
That time in the minors, though, was helpful, exposing him to various roles, and that experience made the NHL more attainable.
“You always want to be up here,” he said.
Climbing the depth chart
Soucy’s goal at camp this year was to make a strong first impression on new general manager Bill Guerin, but he wasn’t a lock for a spot on the team.
He wasn’t even initially scheduled to accompany the Wild on its retreat to Vail. Soucy was a late addition as the eighth defenseman after Pateryn was sidelined because of core muscle surgery.
He figured he had an opportunity to make the team as an extra, and that’s what ended up happening, but Soucy felt his job was far from over.
“The position I was in early, it was like, ‘Well, I gotta prove myself right from the get-go,” Soucy said. “Obviously, I enjoyed it. Obviously coming here and having a stall and having everything was awesome, but there was always, ‘I gotta prove it. Nothing’s permanent.’ ”
While the incumbent Nick Seeler got the nod for the season opener, Soucy cracked the lineup for Game No. 2. And three. And four.
He’s been a mainstay since the beginning of November, and because of his play the Wild hasn’t been able to sub him out.
Only four times has Soucy finished a minus player; the last game that happened was Nov. 26. His plus-16 rating is tops among NHL rookies, and Soucy’s been on the ice for only eight goals at even strength — the fewest in the NHL for defensemen who have played at least as many games as he has (31).
Soucy’s been especially effective since he was elevated to the second pairing when Jared Spurgeon suffered a hand injury Dec. 3, a move that shifted the lefty to the right side.
Since then, he’s an NHL-best plus-13. He and Brodin have been tagged for just one goal against and have surrendered just 34 scoring chances and only 16 high-danger chances, the fewest among the Wild’s most consistently used pairings.
But Soucy’s impact also has spilled over into the offensive zone; since his promotion, he’s paced rookie defensemen in scoring (six points) and tied for third in scoring for all defensemen. Overall, he has four goals and eight points.
Offense has never been Soucy’s calling card; he had just five goals with Iowa last season and a career-high six as a sophomore in college. But he’s oozing confidence right now.
Combine that with his smart positioning and sound defending, which is accentuated by the gaps he’s able to close with the long stick his tall frame carries, and he’s easily achieved his objective of being a reliable presence for the Wild.
“It surprises us because you didn’t expect this much positivity coming from him,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But I think any team that wants to be good has got to have a surprise player come in.”
Motivated to stay
Mike Soucy is expecting about 50-60 people from Irma to make the trip to Calgary to see the Wild take on the Flames in January — a sizable chunk of the village’s population, which Mike pegs at 450.
“There’s lots of Minnesota Wild gear popping up around town right now,” he said.
If he continues to contribute the way that he has, it’s hard to imagine Soucy won’t still be on the Wild at that time.
But if he doesn’t get official word from the team that he won’t be sent to the minors, that’s fine by him.
Not that he’d get complacent, but to have that possibility lingering in the back of his mind could be motivation that brings out the best in Soucy.
After all, he’s persevered amid uncertainty before and that’s exactly what led him to the Wild.
“Every route’s different,” Soucy said. “You can’t get discouraged. It’s hard when you’re a young kid. You want to make all those best teams. But a lot of guys don’t. Lots of guys develop at different times. There’s not one right path to get here. Take whatever you can and just keep working.”