It’s always exciting to see just where any new players land on their team. We are craving any semblance of partnerships or line combinations or potential chemistry, that we conjure up some hypothetical lineups even before the player has participated in a full practice with the team.
Well, Wild head coach Dean Evason gave us a little snippet of that during practice on Wednesday, unveiling the new blue line and defenseman pairings with newcomer Jacob Middleton in action.
D pairs— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) March 23, 2022
Looks like Kulikov comes out first tomorrow.
That’s right, when the Wild face the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, the blue line will look like:
Jacob Middleton—Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin—Matt Dumba
Jon Merrill—Alex Goligoski
There are a couple really interesting decisions that Evason made here. First, Dmitry Kulikov has not looked particularly good lately, but has not been as bad as some other defensemen. He’s been just completely alright, but something had to give and clearly Evason doesn’t want to ruffle any further feathers by removing Goligoski from the top pairing, to jettisoning him completely from the blue line (the hometown veteran is who most projected would be leaving the lineup). Goligoski will return to the right side of the ice, as he did earlier this season when Spurgeon was out with an injury. Maybe this makes Evason less dependent on his top-four pairings down the stretch, since games are coming thick and fast before the playoffs arrive.
On a more positive note, Middleton is such the obvious partner for Spurgeon. The young, mobile, and defensively-minded lefty has spent his first full season in the NHL this year next to either Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns during his time on the San Jose Sharks. While Spurgeon is more defensively reliable than those two, Middleton knows what he has to do to play alongside blueliners that want to get up into the zone at any chance they can get. With Ryan Suter gone and the Goligoski experiment somewhat a mediocre failure — multiple reports have already stated that the Wild will not be bringing him back next season — Middleton might just be a longer-term option as the guy that gets to play with Spurgeon and put up some ungodly underlying numbers.
He’s young enough to be here for a while and his career in Minnesota will be starting Thursday.