Jared Spurgeon feels like he doesn’t have to lie about his size anymore. The NHL is maybe changing after all.
The Minnesota Wild rearguard listed himself at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds during a visit to Rogers Arena to play the Vancouver Canucks earlier this season. He’s become a prototype of the smaller, yet capable, defenceman. He’s become someone that younger defencemen of a similar physical stature, like Vancouver’s Troy Stecher, list as a role model.
Spurgeon is 29, with over 500 NHL regular-season games on his resume. He heads into another visit to Rogers Arena on Tuesday, playing 21 minutes, 41 seconds a night on a Minnesota team with playoff expectations.
He’s on solid ground. There were times he often wondered, though.
“I’m not trying to get drafted anymore,” Spurgeon said when asked about his honest take on height and weight. “Before, when you’d go to those combines, you’d always put a little something extra in your pocket to make you a little heavier, you’d always stand on your tippy toes. Now it doesn’t really matter.”
We’ll assume he’s not joking around with that scale skulduggery or tape-measure trickery. He has reason not to be.
According to the nhl.com website, there were three defencemen in the league in 1998-99 who were 5-foot-10 or shorter playing at least 65 games that season, led by Hockey Hall-of-Famer Phil Housley.
In 2008-09, there were nine rearguards of that stature get into 65 games.
Going into Monday, there were 11 defencemen who measured in at 5-foot-10 or shorter who had seen duty in 20 or more games this season, plus Boston Bruins rearguard Torey Krug, who’s usually a mainstay in their lineup but had missed action with an injury and was at 15 games played.
Vancouver has Stecher, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds. Alex Biega, who comes in at 5-foot-10 and 199 pounds, was called up from the AHL due to injuries. Assuming that he’s sent back to the Utica Comets when everyone is healthy, Stecher will be the only Canucks rearguard below 6-feet and 196 pounds.
Vancouver is expected to make a spot on the blue-line next season, though, for 2018 first-round draft pick Quinn Hughes, who is 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, according to the roster of his current team, the University of Michigan Wolverines.
The Wild list Spurgeon at 5-foot-9 and 167 pounds. The other six defencemen on the Wild roster are all at least 6-feet and 180 pounds.
There are three teams that currently have two regular defencemen 5-foot-10 or shorter. Canucks fans will like that the Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche, who were both in playoff positions to start Monday, are among that group. They won’t appreciate the other being the New Jersey Devils, who were in the Eastern Conference cellar as of Monday morning.
Spurgeon thinks teams can have more than one defenceman under that 6-foot mark and succeed.
“As long as you play good defence,” explained the Edmonton native, who was a spur in the backside of the Vancouver Giants during his WHL tenure with the Spokane Chiefs. “You still have to be able to get guys out of the front of the net in some way and tie up guys’ sticks. You can’t be back there getting scored on all the time.”
Stecher, 24, believes that he and Hughes, 19, can work in a six-man blue-line unit. They do have different skill-sets, with Stecher playing a two-way game and Hughes a power-play quarterback type.
Stecher has heard the questions about whether you can have two smaller defencemen on this Canucks team. That comes across as a certainty.
“I think people are so fixated on size that they’re like, ‘Oh, they’re going to have two small D-men … one has to go,’ but I don’t think that’s the case,” said Stecher. “It just goes back to being told, ‘No.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, you’ve got another small guy coming in so you’re going to be out,’ … well, I’m just going to prove everybody wrong again.”
Stecher knows that he’s had doubters coming through the ranks. The Richmond native and product of the BCHL’s Penticton Vees was passed over in the NHL Draft and signed with the Canucks as a free agent in April 2016 after three seasons at the University of North Dakota. Spurgeon’s story is similar. He was a 2008 sixth-round draft pick of the New York Islanders but never signed with them. He instead inked a free-agent deal with Minnesota before the 2010-11 season.
Stecher knows Spurgeon’s tale well. He and Spurgeon have the same agent, with California-based Eustace King representing both players. Stecher says he was 16 when he began studying Spurgeon’s game and feels like he has “a lot of inside information.” The pair have only talked a handful of times, usually in instances set up by King.
“Just in the D-zone, boxing out, he’s able to bait guys into a position where they might feel comfortable and then at the last second he’s able to move them or get better body position on them, even though he’s smaller,” Stecher said. “That’s something I’ve really watched. When the Wild are on TV, I try to put my microscope on him.
“He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves at times, but he’s one of the best defenders in the league.”
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