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  • Wild Prospect Ryan O'Rourke Offers More Than Just A Mean Streak

    Tony Abbott

    Imagine taking a player’s best skill and legislating it out of the game. Could Zach Parise thrive if rebounds were declared off-limits tomorrow? What happens to Matt Dumba if slapshots were banned, or Kevin Fiala if the league imposed a speed limit?


    Welcome to Ryan O’Rourke’s world. O’Rourke’s calling card is his hard-nosed physicality. His reputation for throwing his body around is well-noted. When reading up on him, you’ll see phrases like “piss and vinegar,” “a missile on the ice” and “mean, nasty, violent.”


    His defense and leadership bona fides helped him get an invite to Team Canada’s World Junior training camp. It didn’t take long for him to make his presence felt.



    The player O’Rourke bowled over was Kirby Dach, a 6’4” NHLer with a full head of steam. It’s a pretty impressive addition to the highlight reel, but savor these while you can. Once the World Juniors (currently slated to start Dec. 26) end, that’s it for those massive hits.


    In an effort to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, the OHL eliminated body checking. Assuming the OHL returns to play, that means O’Rourke is going to have to learn to thrive without a key tool in his arsenal. Can he do it?

    The Spurgeon Way

    O’Rourke is a “throwback” defenseman coming to a system full of modern defensemen. The Minnesota Wild emphasize great skating and sublime positional defense on the blue line. Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin don’t throw big hits, but they’re the backbone of the best defense in the NHL.


    Being able to physically take an attacker out of the play is great, but there are other ways to kill offense. Spurgeon and Brodin have each made careers of guiding opponents to the outside or using their sticks to strip the puck entirely.


    Fortunately, O’Rourke is more than a mean streak. The notoriety of his nastiness grabs the attention and makes good GIF fodder, but O’Rourke has a bit of Spurgeon and Brodin in him. McKeen’s Scouting says of him: “He is an extremely smart defensive player who rarely makes a mistake in his own end. ... [He exhibits] strong control of his gaps and will angle off attackers to the wall.”


    Seeing that is music to Wild fans’ ears.



    On one hand, suspending the use of body checking is a challenge for O’Rourke. It’s also a fantastic opportunity, as limitations can create growth. Just as a fastball hitter in baseball might improve by deciding to train by never swinging at heaters, O’Rourke can keep improving his positional game simply by being forced to solve every opposing rush without taking the body.


    If he can improve his already-decent skating, the stage is set for O’Rourke to develop his more Spurgeon-like qualities. Add the mean streak, and that’s a scary defender.

    Room to Grow Offensively

    One question about O’Rourke concerns his offensive upside. O’Rourke produced a solid 37 points in 54 games despite being on the second power play. On one hand, it’s good that he was still able to produce some, on the other, shouldn’t the first-round defenseman be on the top power play unit?


    Part of this has to do with his heavy workload with the Soo. According to Elite Prospects, he played almost 25 minutes a night, and those minutes were hard. The toughest defensive matchups? Those all went to O’Rourke. Same with penalty killing. Soo general manager Kyle Raftis told The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler, “We needed to monitor his minutes because he played so much for us."


    That said, there’s potential for O’Rourke to be a threat on the power play. Most scouts seem to think he has a good shot, with Future Considerations praising both its power and accuracy. He probably will never have the skills and creativity to be an elite power play quarterback, but a smart player with a heavy shot is a good bet to be competent.


    Growing his transition game should be a focus this year. O’Rourke can lead the breakout by passing, but he doesn’t so much carry the puck himself. This is another area he could see a jump in if he improves his skating. Added turnovers by an emphasis on stick-checking can also send more breakouts the other way, though he’s already adept at this.


    It’s hard to see an offensive whiz here, but if his transition ability and shot project to the NHL, he can play on any blue line.

    The Heir to Suter?

    Minnesota’s had the luxury of an incredible blue line for almost a decade. With Suter, Spurgeon, Brodin and Dumba, they’ve had incredible stability and have had the luxury to focus on drafting forwards.


    Not for much longer, though. While those four defensemen are signed for at least three more years, Father Time is working against them. Brodin and Dumba are still well in their primes, but Spurgeon is 31 while Suter turns 36 in January.


    It’s time for Bill Guerin to start thinking about succession plans, and he’s started doing so. Trading for Calen Addison at the deadline gives the team options on the right side. Now with O’Rourke, there’s a plan in place for when Suter gets too old for first-pair minutes.


    Brodin will be there to soak up the tough defensive match-ups for years to come. He’s one of the best in the league at it, and he’s not a good bet to fill in Suter’s more offensive role. So where does that leave O’Rourke? Could he fill that Suter spot?


    O’Rourke and Suter have some aspects of their games in common. The emphasis on defense while being able to produce offensively and move the puck. Their ability to log heavy workloads night after night, taking on tough assignments. A combination of using their brawn and brains on defense.


    Projecting a prospect to be a borderline Hall of Famer like Suter is outlandish, and that’s not what we’re doing here. It’s much more likely O’Rourke winds up a defensive counterpart to, say, Addison. But if O’Rourke’s development progresses, he could fill a similar well-rounded minute-munching role just as Suter starts to step away. It’d be perfect timing, for sure.


    This article is part of a series profiling the Wild's Top 10 Prospects. O'Rourke came in at #10. Look for #9 on Wednesday.

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