ANAHEIM – When Patrick Maroon gets the puck along the boards he uses his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame to guard it and keep it pinned to prevent the other team from picking it off him.
“I think he’s really underrated in what he does,” said Anaheim Ducks forward and former Maroon teammate Andrew Cogliano. “In terms of protecting the puck I don’t think I’ve seen a guy protect the puck like him.
“When you get the puck in your end and he gets it, you’re kind of screwed.”
This ability for the 28-year-old Maroon, along with his skill at finding open space around the net to score goals, has made him an unlikely, but solid complement to Oilers superstar forward Connor McDavid. Maroon has taken the left wing slot – one that was expected to be filled by Milan Lucic – on McDavid’s line and not looked out of place.
In 50 games he has 18 goals – six more than his previous best last season of 12 over 72 games between the Oilers and the Ducks. His 26 points in 50 games have him on pace to best his previous high of 34 points in 71 games in 2014-15.
“For myself I just have to be myself, which is just being big and physical, going around the net, having a good net presence, protecting pucks, creating space for (my linemates),” Maroon said about playing with McDavid. “Everyone says, ‘well how does he do it?’ (It’s not like) ‘I just skate around and expect (McDavid) to pass the puck to me.’ No I don’t do that. There’s a lot more to it. I have a good hockey sense to the game I think. I believe in myself. I put myself in situations where I’m going to do good things on the ice to help my linemates too. But obviously playing with him and Leon (Draisaitl) helps. There’s going to be times you don’t expect the puck, so you always have to be ready and good things are always going to happen when they have the puck in their hands.”
The Ducks traded Maroon to the Oilers last season for prospect Martin Gernat and a fourth-round selection in the 2016 NHL Draft. Anaheim made the move in part to make space for this past summer, where they had to re-sign a bevy of restricted free agents. Also, Maroon had lost his coveted role of playing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the Ducks’ top line, bouncing between the second and fourth units in 2015-16.
Right away the Oilers and coach Todd McLellan saw Maroon as the right fit for playing with McDavid, and the forward responded with eight goals and 14 points and a plus-6 rating in 16 games there last year.
“I’ve always liked playing with Patty. Patty’s a guy that gets up and down the ice better than people give him credit for. He’s a big body that moves pretty well. When he gets in on the forecheck, he might be one of the best forecheckers in the league, so he keeps pucks alive and holds onto them well down low,” McDavid said. “You need someone to be able to go in and get on the forecheck and really keep pucks alive, hold onto pucks down low, fight off big bodies and he definitely is able to do that.”
Last summer when the Oilers signed Lucic to a seven-year, $42 million contract, they saw the hulking winger as a guy who could play with McDavid for years to come. But the two lacked the right type of chemistry initially, and eventually McLellan returned Maroon to the spot on McDavid’s line. Maroon has scored nine of his 15 5-on-5 goals while playing with McDavid, while Lucic has scored four. McDavid has also posted better adjusted 5-on-5 possession numbers with Maroon on ice than with Lucic.
“That was an experiment that we had going last year and it worked well,” McLellan said. “When we acquired Patty he went there and played. Initially the plan was to play Patrick there and the signing of Lucic, we made a decision. Whether it’s right or wrong we put Milan there to start the season, and then we tried different people and finally Patty Maroon settled on that line.”
Maroon’s ability to put up points this season isn’t all because of McDavid. Sure, getting most of his ice-time with the NHL’s top offensive talent has helped but Maroon also took steps last summer to better his ability to score – including a trip to Russia to play in the World Championships with Team USA. There, he had a goal and two assists in 10 games and saw his confidence boosted with the group.
“It was cool. It was a cool experience for myself just to put on the sweater and play for Team USA. And playing with good young players in that tournament and playing against Canada and playing against elite players and having so many good players and good teams and having the chance to do that.,” Maroon said. “Yeah, obviously I think that helped me out a lot – playing on the big ice, believing in yourself that you could play on some of those teams and I thought it was a good situation for me to go.”
Being a ‘go-to top-line’ player in a hockey market is a bit of a different experience for Maroon, who is from St. Louis. There’s much more media exposure and earlier this season such issues seemed to create a problem for him. After McDavid was removed in a loss to the Minnesota Wild for a brief stretch by a concussion spotter because he clutched his chin after a trip, Maroon lashed out saying that it was a “man’s game” as part of some quotes about the situation.
He added, “People are going to get hit, get high-sticked. They’re going to go through the middle and get hit. That’s part of hockey, and that’s why we have all this gear that protects us. Yes, if someone gets seriously hurt, we’re concerned. But he just fell, got tripped… I just don’t get it.”
Maroon received some backlash for the “man’s game” comment as seeming insensitive to head injuries, but ultimately understands that in a place like Edmonton, you have to take the good with the bad when it comes to how you’re portrayed.
“You just have to get used to it and clear your brain out, don’t look at that stuff and just worry about yourself and worry about your game and your team,” Maroon said. “That’s all the focus. Everyone knows the media is going to be hard on you. Everyone knows the media is going to have some positive things to say about you but you just can’t look at that stuff because one day it can be negative and the next it can be positive. You just have to find ways to stay focused, play your game and play for your teammates.”
The key for Maroon is staying consistent. As easily as McLellan put him on the top line, the coach can put him somewhere else. So far he has showed no signs of drop-off and the team is pleased with how he has worked to keep his role on McDavid’s wing.
“He has been able to take advantage of the opportunity he has been given,” McLellan said. “He understands how to play with him and he has done some things himself that has allowed him to elevate his play and have more success.”
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