See more of the story

Wild season review

Today: defense

LOS ANGELES – Wild captain Jared Spurgeon started late and barely made it to January, all because of injury.

The penalty kill flirted with becoming the worst in NHL history.

Then there were the results: Four losses by five goals, a pair of 6-0 blowouts, and once the Wild even surrendered seven in a win.

But the season wasn't a complete bust for the blue line, not when Brock Faber was the Wild's breakout star.

Faber's emergence as an all-purpose specialist the past six months should make him a finalist for Rookie of the Year, and yet the future is when he could really make a splash.

If this is just the beginning for Faber, he has the skill to lead the Wild defense's turnaround.

"It's really exciting," coach John Hynes said. "He's played really solid hockey. I think when you look at the substance of Brock's game — the skating, the size, his competitiveness, his ability to really start to grow his offensive game with some power-play time, his ability to join the rush and his offensive blue-line play — there's a lot of substance to that, and that's something he should be excited about.

"We're certainly excited about it."

At 21, Faber is the youngest Wild defenseman, but he didn't play like it.

Sign up for our Wild Update newsletter

He previewed this effectiveness a year ago: After the Maple Grove native left the Gophers last April to sign with the Wild following a trade from Los Angeles for Kevin Fiala in 2022, he made a smooth transition from college to the NHL during two regular-season games and was downright impressive in the playoffs; the Wild were never scored on while he was on the ice.

Still, there's a difference between fitting in and becoming the most utilized defenseman on the team, and that's exactly what happened to Faber.

While suiting up for every game, the 6-1, 200-pound Faber has averaged 24 minutes, 59 seconds, which is the sixth-highest ice time in the league.

The 33:25 he skated Dec. 21 vs. Montreal is the most anyone has played in a game this season.

He's blocked 150 shots and despite how often he went up against stiff competition, the Wild have scored more goals than they've given up at even strength when Faber is in action.

As for where he ranks among rookies, Faber is first in assists (39) and third in points (46), with Faber quarterbacking the power play for the first time in his career.

The Calder Trophy, which recognizes the best rookie, has turned into a showdown between him and Chicago's Connor Bedard, who is first in rookie scoring.

"I have the utmost respect for every other rookie in the league," Faber said. "I try to really not focus on that."

Around Faber was adversity.

Spurgeon was sidelined almost the entire first month with a shoulder injury and then was ruled out after appearing in only 16 games because of hip and back issues that resulted in surgery.

Fellow veterans Alex Goligoski, Zach Bogosian (whom the Wild acquired in an early-season shakeup that included trading away Calen Addison) and Jonas Brodin also were hurt, and the Wild relied on patchwork pairings.

Dakota Mermis, who was named captain for the Wild's American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa, has been in the minors for only five games. Daemon Hunt made his NHL debut before going back to Iowa. Declan Chisholm is in a regular role after getting claimed off waivers from Winnipeg.

Jake Middleton rarely left the lineup, and Jon Merrill eclipsed 60 games while Goligoski was a healthy scratch until recently.

"It's been up and down," Hynes said. "Some of the depth defensemen have had really good stretches. Sometimes it's been just OK, and I think that's something we have to look to collectively next year of getting more consistency in those areas of our lineup."

Everyone is signed through at least next season except Goligoski, Mermis and Chisholm, but Chisholm is a restricted free agent so the Wild own his rights.

Getting Spurgeon back is an immediate upgrade that helps reinstate the balance the Wild were lacking: The 256 goals they've allowed (3.16 per game) is near the middle of the league, but the Wild's 74.6% penalty kill is third-to-last after a 63.5% stint early in the season; 68.2% is the worst on record.

"Having guys back healthy at the start of next year, I think they'll be a new sense of confidence," Faber said, "but also still a bitter taste considering that we didn't make the playoffs for the first time in a while."

On Faber's offseason radar is getting stronger and faster.

He'll be eligible to sign a contract extension this summer, a situation Faber has tried not to think about but one he'll give his "full attention" to when the time comes.

"You see guys like [Nathan] MacKinnon, the way he skates," Faber said. "In order to defend him, you obviously have to be smart but also be able to skate, be strong, and I think playing those top players, top minutes, having those matchups the rest of this year, next year, that's a very important thing for me."

The challenges the Wild faced might have fast-tracked Faber up the depth chart but considering how well he acclimated, he was probably always bound for that climb.

"The fact that he was able to do what he did in lieu of the injuries with those opportunities," Hynes said, "he was obviously ready for that."