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How the Islanders Let Spurgeon Slip Through Their Fingers

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New York Islanders, Jared Spurgeon

In the 2008 NHL Entry Level Draft, New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow used his sixth-round draft pick to select a 5-foot-nine defenseman out of the Western Hockey League. That player’s name was Jared Spurgeon.

It was a draft that featured 13 draft picks for the New York Islanders, with the likes of Josh Bailey, Matt Martin, and Travis Hamonic to name a few.

In his draft year, Jared Spurgeon notched 12 goals and 31 assists for the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL, his third junior season. Undersized and, quite frankly, under-appreciated, the Islanders did not sign him to an entry-level contract as they used up the two years of control before making a decision.

Spurgeon played two more seasons for the Chiefs, totaling 18 goals and 78 assists in 113 games. And when the 2009-10 season ended, Garth Snow and the Islanders elected to let the then 20-year-old Spurgeon walk.

In a 2014 article by NHL.com, Spurgeon shared that the Islanders never gave him a reason for not signing him to his ELC.

There are two ways Spurgeon’s career could have gone after his release. He could have hung his head and called it quits after the team that drafted him didn’t believe he had what it took to be a full-time NHLer. Or he could use that feeling of defeat as a motivational tool, a chip on his shoulder, and rise above it.

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Spurgeon was told his whole life that he was too small to play, which never stopped him. And it certainly wasn’t going to stop him from doing everything he could to make it to the big leagues.

That summer of 2010, the Minnesota Wild invited the then-20-year-old defenseman to development camp without guarantees.

Spurgeon played well enough at development camp to get invited to their rookie showcase in Traverse City, a development tournament showcasing top prospects from a handful of NHL clubs. He showed well and was invited to Minnesota Wild training camp later that fall and earned himself a three-year NHL entry-level contract.

With no professional hockey experience, Spurgeon was reassigned to the Wild’s AHL affiliate, starting the 2010-11 campaign with the Houston Aeros.

After 23 games, with two goals and seven assists, Spurgeon was called up to the NHL a day before his 21st birthday, as he suited up in his first NHL game against the Calgary Flames on Nov. 29, 2010.

He would never play in the AHL again.

Spurgeon went on to play 53 games in his rookie campaign, with four goals and eight assists. He scored his first career NHL goal on the power play against the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 22, 2011, as he rifled one past netminder Martin Gerber.

Over the next three seasons, the length of his ELC, Spurgeon compiled 12 goals and 38 assists in 162 games, playing sound defensive hockey while also staying disciplined with just 12 PIM.

Despite only playing 39 games in the 2011-12 season, Spurgeon recorded a career-high five goals with 10 assists, a projected 10-goal, 21-assist season throughout 82 games.

That summer, 2012, the Wild signed Spurgeon to another three-year deal worth $8 million as he solidified himself on the backend. And he just kept getting better and better as the years went on.

When he reached unrestricted free-agent status in the summer of 2016, the Wild kept him around as they signed him to a four-year deal worth $20.75 million.

Spurgeon set career-highs across the board in 2018-19 season numbers he has not hit since. The Edmonton native scored 14 goals with 29 assists for 43 points in 82 games, finishing 11th in the Norris Trophy voting and 10th in the Lady Byng voting (20 PIM).

That following September, the then 30-year-old earned himself a mighty fine extension, signing a seven-year deal worth $53.025 million. He is currently in year three of that deal.

Before the start of the 2021 season, which began in January due to COVID-19’s impact on the season prior, the Wild decided not to re-sign Mikko Koivu, who had captained the franchise for 11 seasons.

Second-year general manager Bill Guerin did not have to think hard about who would don the “C” for the organization going forward.

At 31, after a rigorous road to the NHL featuring grit, determination, and leadership, Spurgeon was announced as the captain.

“In hockey, there’s one captain,” Guerin said at the press conference. “And going through everything, what Jared has done, what he stands for, and how he carries himself, it became clear that he was going to be the right choice.”

And for the last three seasons, Spurgeon has worn that “C” proudly, helping the Wild to three straight playoff appearances.

This season in 40 games, Spurgeon has five goals, and 14 assists as the Wild find themselves third in the Central Division as they gear up to battle the New York Islanders Thursday night.

It’s easy to look back at his draft year and judge the Islanders for their decision. No one knew how Spurgeon’s career would play out as 155 picks went by before a team took a chance on him.

Prospects are merely prospects, as the old saying goes–until they are not.

In 812 NHL games, Spurgeon sits with 104 goals and 260 assists for 364 points, with just 140 total penalty minutes.

He’s appeared in nine Stanley Cup Playoffs over his 13-year career with eight goals and 19 assists.

He has yet to be an All-Star, yet to receive any award at the NHL level. He’d tell you that being able to live out his dream is enough, and while the Minnesota Wild gave him the chance that the New York Islanders didn’t, all the credit goes to Spurgeon and his dedication to the sport, his commitment to proving people wrong.

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