If one thing has become more clear than anything else during the Bill Guerin-Dean Evason era, it’s that they love their guys. And I mean love their guys. And maybe more specifically, guys who fit a certain role on the team.
They for sure love having a rugged defenseman type player on the blue line, leading to extensions for Jake Middleton and Jon Merrill. Another great example would be their proclivity for Swiss-army type forwards who they can play anywhere in the lineup, such as Freddy Gaudreau.
But make no mistake, Guerin and Evason may not desire any player type more than the boisterous enforcer. In an era where fighting has declined considerably and teams are focusing on talent in the depths of their forward group, the Wild have remained old school in their roster construction. For each of the past three seasons, Guerin has scoured the trade market for his enforcer. Only this time the old saying third time's the charm really rings true.
The Wild finally have an enforcer who can, well, play hockey. And play it well at that. Pat Maroon is proving early on to be a fantastic addition to this year’s team.
When Guerin couldn’t re-sign Ryan Reaves over the summer, many Minnesota Wild fans breathed a sigh of relief. Not that Reaves wasn’t well liked. His alpha personality and general disregard for wearing a shirt in front of a camera was endearing to the State of Hockey. But his play on the ice? Not so much.
Wild leadership has been bullish on their opinion that tough guys still have a place in hockey. It’s why Reaves, even with poor on-ice metrics and results, was a mainstay in the lineup the moment he arrived in a trade from the New York Rangers last season just before Thanksgiving. Reaves was even a fourth-line staple in the playoffs where fighting is all but nonexistent, much to the chagrin of a fan base becoming increasingly frustrated with their team’s playoff results.
Before Reaves there was Nicolas Deslauriers, who the Wild added at the trade deadline amidst the greatest regular season in team history. That year scoring was up considerably across the NHL, and the Wild were no exception. And yet, Evason and Guerin decided to replace some of the depth in their lineup with the grit and fists of an enforcer. It ended up backfiring in their first round exit to the St. Louis Blues.
I'm not standing on a soap box complaining about the logic behind those two trades. While enforcers are becoming more scarce these days, there is still value to having such a player in your lineup. However, they become a problem when that’s sort of all they do. That was the biggest issue with Reaves and Deslauries. Breakouts were dead upon arrival when they received a pass along the half wall, and they extinguished offense if they were around the puck in the offensive zone.
In practice, their acquisitions made sense. In reality, both players hurt the team when their greatest asset, fighting, was non-existant in the playoffs.
So when Guerin swung a surprising trade for three-time Stanley Cup champion Maroon this summer, the moans of the fan base could be heard from Rochester to Warroad. However, Maroon has proven to the State of Hockey he’s more than just a physical, tough-guy forward through the first few weeks of the season.
The dude can play. It’s safe to say Guerin and Evason finally found their tough guy who can actually play, you know, hockey.
Through seven games, Maroon has shown why he’s been so critical to a few Stanley Cup-winning teams over the last handful of seasons. It’s more than the safety he affords the roster from receiving cheap shots from an opposing team. But also his ability to pivot and play other roles when the time calls for it. Something Reaves and Deslauries never could.
Following Matt Boldy's injury just a few games into the season, Evason made the unconventional move to elevate Maroon from the fourth line, placing him alongside Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson. It seemed like an odd fit at the time. Not anymore. Maroon is showing us he has more offensive upside than many people in Minnesota thought he had.
Maroon is providing everything the Wild assumed he would. He’s playing physical in the offensive zone and playing responsibly defensively. But his ability to make the simple play and get the puck into higher-skilled players' hands makes him stand out from Reaves and Deslauriers. It may sound simple, but it’s the biggest differentiator between himself and his predecessors.
Maroon excels around the boards, an under-appreciated skillset. Time and again Maroon has found ways to pull pucks off the wall and quickly make a play to one of his linemates. It’s the sort of play Reaves and Deslauries struggled at. Maroon is not only showing off his hands, but also his ability to quickly process the play around him and make the simple yet effective pass.
Perhaps no highlight better encapsulates his impact more than this play against the Columbus Blue Jackets late in the third period to tie the game.
The puck slides low along the boards to Maroon. But before the it reaches the St. Louis native, he scans and finds Johansson in an ideal scoring position. In one fluid motion, Maroon catches the puck on his backhand and slides it to the waiting Swede for the tying goal. It seems small, but it’s the type of play the Wild were missing from their enforcers in years past.
It’s also the type of play that’s going to keep Maroon in the lineup come playoff time. Because if Maroon can keep showing his skillset doesn’t start and stop with his ability to drop the gloves, nobody is going to complain about his role on the team. He has the chance to make a real impact on the Wild’s roster this year.
Maroon is the sort of player Guerin and Evason have been clamoring to get for nearly three years now. Let’s just hope they can turn around the roller coaster of a start to their season so we can experience Maroon’s impact in the playoffs.
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