Friday, December 1 2023

Pat Maroon was a long player with the Anaheim Ducks when he advanced to his first conference championship game. The Ducks lost to eventual-champion Chicago at Honda Center — and it still irks him.

“I thought we should have won, to be honest with you,” he said.

But, the veteran winger said Saturday, that experience helped him become a three-time Stanley Cup champion, once with St. Louis in 2019, then with Tampa Bay in 2020 and 2021.

“That (loss to Chicago) was kind of devastating, but when you go that far, you kind of know what it takes,” Maroon said. “And you can maybe bring that experience to different teams and players that have never been to the playoffs or past the first round, so you can really help them out.”

Maroon has come to the right place. The Wild are a perennial playoff team that has been past the first round only three times, and past the second round only once, in 2003. Despite having strong teams the past three seasons — they were second in the Western Conference in 2021-22 — the Wild have been eliminated in the first round in seven, six and six games each year.

Adding Maroon, 35, to what the franchise believes is a talented team, was deliberate. The Wild think it can make a difference.

“Huge difference,” head coach Dean Evason said. “Huge.”

Playing left wing on a line with center Connor Dewar and right wing Brandon Duhaime, Maroon said he isn’t ready to stop at three, and is ready to discuss his experiences while winning it all. He played 74 playoff games in three years, scored six goals among 11 points and was an aggregate plus-1.

On July 2, the Wild sent a seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay for Maroon and forward prospect Maxim Cajkovic, also in camp.

“We try to get people with that pedigree, that have won, that can pass down their experiences and relate what they’ve been through so that, hopefully, we all learn from that,” Evason said. “Not only players, coaches and managers, as well.”

In the meantime, he gave reporters a thumbnail version.

“It’s 23 guys collectively,” he said. “Are we all gonna buy in at the same time? Are we all willing to do it? And it starts now. I always say it’s an 82-game dress rehearsal to the main stuff.”

Khaira getting good look

Maroon won’t play in the first preseason game of the season Sunday at Colorado, but Dewar and Duhaime will — centered by Jujhar Khaira, who signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $775,000 in the NHL last week.

The Wild like Maroon with the two young forwards but are getting a good look at Khaira, a 6-foot-4, 212-pound veteran trying to nab the team’s final forward spot.

“Great skater, big guy, very detailed,” Evason said. “Obviously, he’s got offensive ability, but we really liked his defensive stick, first day and then this day. His stick was real good through the neutral zone.”

Khaira has been limited by a concussion and back injury the past two seasons but said he wants to show the Wild, and the NHL, that he can play an entire season.

“He’s a pro, right?” Evason said. “He’s played in the NHL. So, he can provide our group with a lot.”

Hartman improving

Ryan Hartman, limited slightly by an upper-body injury, went through another full practice on Saturday, and Evason said he hopes the veteran center will be a full participant when the team has “a real heated, with-referees scrimmage on Monday.”

“He’s progressed now into the spot where he is, and hopefully he can just continue to do that,” Evason said.

Evason said every player who was with the Wild last season is scheduled to play in three of the team’s six preseason games — the first home game is Thursday against the Avalanche — the lone exception being Hartman.

‘I think Hartsy right now is scheduled for two, but maybe if he’s progressed, maybe he gets one more,” he said. “That will play out as it does. But we want our group to play games; that’s why we’re having these scrimmages.”

The group that doesn’t travel to Colorado will scrimmage Sunday at 10 a.m. Monday’s scrimmage also is scheduled to begin at 10, and both are open to the public.

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