MONTREAL – Bruce Boudreau and Jared Spurgeon still remember their first encounter in the Wild’s fitness center before training camp.
Boudreau’s reaction to the defenseman Boudreau labels as 5-foot-7, 165 pounds soaking wet?
“You’re small,” Boudreau said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was told he was small. He plays so much bigger than his size. My first thought was, ‘Man, how is this guy going to defend at his size?’ He has proven me 100 percent wrong.”
Spurgeon, drafted by the Islanders but signed by the Wild out of the Western Hockey League’s Spokane team after New York cut him loose, has been a model of consistency since arriving in the NHL on his 21st birthday.
Thursday vs. Montreal, Spurgeon played his 400th game, ranking 10th in Wild history and third among defensemen. His 39 goals rank second in Wild history among defensemen, his 142 points third.
“It flies by. It feels like yesterday where you’re playing your first game,” Spurgeon said.
Spurgeon jokes that he is bigger than he looks, saying equipment manager Tony DaCosta “gives me oversized shirts so no one can see my muscles that I have underneath it.”
But the baby-faced 27-year-old said he immediately noticed Boudreau’s reaction when they first met.
“I’m used to it now,” Spurgeon said. “I’ll be happy when I’m 60 and I look like I’m 40.”
Boudreau said Spurgeon has tremendous instincts, smarts and courage and makes as good a first pass as any blue-liner in the NHL. He said Spurgeon’s skating is “effortless.”
He added how it’s uncanny how good Spurgeon’s body position is and how he so often spins off checks and comes away with the puck against much bigger forwards.
“No matter what you’re playing — bantam, midget, you always have to have good body position,” Spurgeon said. “I was never big growing up, so I had to learn that at a young age. Even when I was playing forward, you have to get on the right side of defensemen to get the puck.”
Boudreau jokingly called Spurgeon a “goon” at Thursday’s morning skate because he took two penalties Tuesday night vs. Colorado, a game Boudreau said was still the epitome of how good a player Spurgeon is.
“I told him as a defenseman it’s always good to look in the double figures in penalty minutes,” Boudreau said.
Spurgeon’s 60 penalty minutes stand second for fewest among NHL players (Washington’s Marcus Johansson) who have played at least 400 games since entering the league in 2010-11. That discipline is remarkable from a defenseman who has averaged nearly 21 ½ minutes a game.
“I know if I turn it over, Suts is back there to back me up,” Spurgeon joked.
“Suts” is Ryan Suter, his defense partner of two years. They live down the street from each other, and their families are very close. In fact, Suter’s son, Brooks, and Spurgeon’s son, Zachary, skated daily on Suter’s pond.
“They’re going to be defense partners,” Spurgeon said.
• Center Pat Cannone played again for the Wild after making his NHL debut at age 30 on Tuesday. “I think the kid at 19 or 20 expects it to happen and the kid at 30 appreciates that it did happen,” Boudreau said. “Patty was generally nervous, but I thought he did a great job. You can tell he’s played in the American League for eight to 10 years because his smarts, his positional play were really good.”
• Right wing Jordan Schroeder played his third game of the season Thursday and scored his 12th goal in 110 career games. Veteran Zach Parise didn’t play because he was sick. Defenseman Christian Folin replaced Nate Prosser in the lineup.