EDMONTON, ALBERTA – When Jared Spurgeon checked in with Kirill Kaprizov earlier this summer, messaging the Wild’s prized prospect on Instagram, he wasn’t typing with thoughts of becoming the Wild’s next captain.
“That definitely never crossed my mind,” Spurgeon said.
He just wanted to be a nice guy.
“I know when I was drafted just going to my first development camp in New York [with the Islanders] that I knew no one,” Spurgeon recalled recently over the telephone. “A pretty nerve-racking time. You’re going to a new city and you don’t know anyone, so you’re meeting all new people and all these names you’re trying to remember and just a new city.
“I just wanted to extend an offer if he had any questions or anything like that.”
But once word leaked about what Spurgeon did, that’s exactly the link fans made — musing that the defenseman could be the one to inherit the “C” whenever incumbent Mikko Koivu’s run with the team ends.
And while that’s a decision for the future, the gesture only reinforced what the Wild will get from Spurgeon when the team begins its qualifying matchup with Vancouver on Sunday: a top-pairing defenseman but also a leader.
“That’s exactly what he is,” General Manager Bill Guerin said. “When you reach out like that, you’re not just thinking of yourself.”
Although Spurgeon’s not one of the most vocal voices on the team, he still sets an example — usually with his actions.
That’s why him connecting with Kaprizov isn’t too surprising.
Even so, the 30-year-old isn’t afraid to say what he’s thinking and when he does, his words carry weight.
“The thing about Spurge is that he just says things at the right time and the right moment,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “Definitely a guy when he does speak up, everyone listens.”
More often than not, though, Spurgeon tends to let his behavior convey his message.
“I feel that if you talk too much, sometimes people stop listening,” he said.
Spurgeon’s outlook was influenced by the experience he had breaking in with the Wild as a youngster when the likes of Koivu, Nick Schultz and Andrew Brunette were the veterans. Schultz, in particular, made an impression on Spurgeon.
“It wasn’t like he was always doing stuff to go out of his way to help me out,” Spurgeon said of his fellow defenseman. “But every day just say hi, just watch and see how he prepared himself for games and practices every day, and you just go after that and you just try to do that.”
What only backs up Spurgeon’s demeanor is his performance on the ice, which has been impressive.
He and defensive partner Ryan Suter average the most minutes on the team, and the duo’s goal differential at 5-on-5 was plus-13 during the regular season — one of the best clips among the league’s No. 1 pairings even though the two made the most defensive-zone starts and on-the-fly starts on the Wild.
The season was also one of the better ones offensively for Spurgeon, who racked up 12 goals and 20 assists in 62 games.
“He’s a pro,” Suter said. “He’s a good player, and he is what he is. He’s not flashy. He’s just a really good guy.”
Spurgeon is also re-energized, which hasn’t always been the case going into the playoffs. The last time the Wild advanced in 2018, Spurgeon was coming off a hamstring injury, and his return for Game 1 was his first action in a month.
“You have that 82-game season,” he said, “there’s a lot of bumps and bruises going in, and there’s going to be once we get in the playoffs. But it’s nice to know from the first game you’re all going to be fresh and ready to go.”
And that’s important to Spurgeon.
With next season the start of the seven-year, $53 million contract he agreed to in September, he is the longest-signed player on the Wild.
That Spurgeon is taking ownership and wanting to include the next generation like Kaprizov makes sense; the two have actually stayed in touch, texting every few days as the Wild continues to work to get Kaprizov to join the team in Canada.
But Spurgeon isn’t just focusing on what’s coming. He’s also very much concentrating on the Wild’s current opportunity.
“The only reason we play is to win,” he said. “Whenever you have a chance and you’re in the playoffs, you’ve got to try to take advantage of it, because you never know if this is going to be your best chance in the next couple years or last chance.”