By Lou Korac
The character traits on the ice have been on full display during the pre-season for one of the newest Blues forwards, and Oakville native, Pat Maroon.
Maroon, signed to a one-year, $1.75 million contract on July 10, has been more than a willing participant to show what he can do for those that have never met him before. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Maroon is the guy that will go in and do the dirty work in the offensive zone, dig pucks out, create space, protecting pucks, getting netfront presence, get pucks to playmakers and make a play when needed, as he was doing for Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly on Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals.
Maroon was also chucking his gloves from the middle of the Enterprise Center ice so far that when he whipped them off, they landed all the way back in Oakville it seemed, during a second-period fight against Liam O’Brien protecting teammate Alex Pietrangelo.
Common and predictable characteristics? Yes. But there’s also an element to Maroon’s game one wouldn’t guess. A former NHL player identified it as, “the best set of hands by far from the blue line in.”
Best hands normally are attributed to the artists on the ice that make the impossible play possible, like a Connor McDavid in Edmonton would do, or a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin would do in Pittsburgh, or a Nicklas Backstrom in Washington or Claude Giroux in Philadelphia. Guys that make hands a priority to their respective success on a daily basis.
It’s not often a bigger, physical skater is associated with soft hands, but Maroon felt at a young age, if he was going to pursue hockey, development of his hands would be the way to go since, “It’s not my foot speed,” he said laughing, “so I had to find a different element to my game and my hands have always been there, I’ve always been able to stick-handle out of a phone booth sometimes.”
It started in the garage of Maroon’s parents, Philip and Patricia, and developed more in a pair of roller skates.
“It’s been with me for quite a bit. I don’t know where it came from,” Maroon said. “I was always in the game, I always had good hands growing up since I was a little kid. Playing roller hockey was one of the things and I just worked at it. I know it sounds cliche, but it helped my game a lot. Playing that a lot and just stick-handling a golf ball in the garage every day.”
Imagine the feel, tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap, back and forth, back and forth, over and over. This is what Maroon was, and did.
From the time Maroon was able to break into the NHL, teams have noticed that he’s more than just a big body. He played with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim, and McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, two explosive offensive players, during his time in Edmonton and had his best season statistically during the 2016-17 season with career highs in points (42) and goals (27).
“Very good hands for a big guy. [Maroon’s] got extremely good hands,” winger Jaden Schwartz, one of the better stick-handlers with the Blues, said. “You notice that right away. He’s played with a lot of good players. In Edmonton, I think he played with McDavid for a while, he played with some skilled guys there. He’s a guy that can play in all different kind of situations and different lines and brings a physical element, but he’s got that offensive upside as well.
“I don’t know if you see that a whole lot with a guy his size and hands that good. He’s good in tight too around the net, whether it’s rebounds or pucks in close. From all the practices and scrimmages, he’s good in tight getting pucks up.”
The Blues brought the hometown kid back knowing he could add an element that’s been lacking since the departures of David Backes and Troy Brouwer, a presence in front of the net who can contribute and enhance Tarasenko’s shooting ability and O’Reilly’s workmanlike game down the middle of the ice.
“He’s got good hands, especially down low and around the net,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Maroon. “… That’s part of his game. He’s a physical player, he’s a big body, but that’s not all of him. A big reason why he’s here is we believe he’s strong around the net, good hands down low in the offensive zone and has the ability to make plays.”
When Maroon broke into the league in 2012, he wasn’t going to outskate anybody, so in order for him to have a prolonged career, the hands would have to do it. That’s why he’s played anywhere from the first to the fourth line. That sort of versatility has become a unique weapon for Maroon.
“For a big man, I knew I had to find a way,” Maroon said. “… That’s always been with me. It’s something I’ve been fortunate enough to have because a lot of people don’t have that. I’m lucky enough to have hands. Some people have foot speed, I have hands.
“… Moving forward in the NHL, if you lack confidence in this league, it’s going to be a long year. You just have to have confidence in this league and feeling good about yourself and just being yourself. It’s tough when you don’t have that swagger in the NHL.”