In a post-practice NHL dressing room, chirps tend to fly right alongside discarded towels and tape balls.
The words John Moore used last Wednesday weren’t actually biting, but his tone telegraphed the fact he was teasing new teammate Patrick Maroon when he bellowed from one side of the New Jersey Devils room to the other: “You had the best play of practice.”
Maroon failed to immediately fill the air with a reply, so Moore continued on, drawing out the anecdote: “Wall play, spin off, backhand sauce.”
No doubt sensing the somewhat backhanded nature of the compliment, Maroon piped up: “I did that yesterday during the game!”
The contest Maroon referred to was a 6-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens and Moore quickly conceded that, yes, the big winger can bust out sweet plays both in the loose setting of practice and during the high-stakes pressure of the game. Maroon actually potted his first goal as a Devil versus the Habs on March 6 and the synchronicity he’s experienced with his new club has made a sometimes-difficult transition that much easier.
New Jersey bench boss John Hynes got his first look at Maroon more than a decade ago when the former was part of the U.S. National Team Development Program coaching staff and the latter was playing with the St. Louis Bandits of the North American Hockey League. Hynes recalls a teenaged Maroon being a big, bruising player with nifty hands.
“And [he] kind of always had this gregarious personality,” Hynes says.
All those elements remain to this day and the fact Maroon worked hard along the way to improve his skating means there’s still very much a place for him in the go-go NHL. Of course, his contract status — Maroon is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, less than three months after his 30th birthday — was a huge factor when it came to him losing his spot on the struggling Edmonton Oilers only one season after he netted a career-best 27 goals playing left wing beside Connor McDavid.
New Jersey picked him up in a deadline swap with Edmonton and Maroon has made a fantastic first impression, registering one goal, four assists and five points in six outings as a Devil. Three of those points have come on the power play, where Maroon has been a fixture on the first unit. In fact, he’s averaging 3:19 of man-advantage ice time per game, more than anybody on the club.
Even if his pace of production is bound to slow, the Devils are justified in their belief Maroon can be an important complimentary piece for their playoff push. Hynes’ familiarity with Maroon also includes coaching against him for a number of years in the American Hockey League and having him on his own bench when both men — as well as New Jersey general manager Ray Shero — were part of the U.S. entry at the 2016 World Championship.
Hynes says Maroon is the kind of player who elevates his performance when the temperature of a game spikes. And while much of his goal explosion a year ago can be traced to McDavid, it’s important to not overlook what the six-foot-three, 225-pounder brings to the equation. All jokes aside, the man has a very specific and valuable skillset.
“His touch around the net, his board play in the offensive zone, his ability to protect plays and make plays under pressure have been very good,” Hynes says.
A few people in the Devils room already knew what to expect. Maroon was originally acquired by Edmonton two years ago at the 2016 trade deadline and spent a couple months as a teammate of Taylor Hall’s before Hall — presently the subject of “MVP!” chants in Newark — was acquired in the signature move of Shero’s tenure with Jersey. Maroon’s first handful of NHL seasons came with the Anaheim Ducks and because that organization has also done some business with the Devils, he was immediately able to rekindle friendships with Kyle Palmieri, Ben Lovejoy and Sami Vatanen.
Ultimately, the success or failure of Maroon’s time with the Devils will be determined by whether or not he can continue to generate offence. The odds he will are at least slightly enhanced by who he is away from the action.
“When you have the type of personality he does, maybe it’s easier to matriculate in, particularity off the ice,” Hynes says. “And lots of times, that off-ice feeling helps your on-ice performance and comfort level.”
While Maroon likely has the ability to make friends fast, he was immediately thankful — upon hearing of the trade — that he didn’t have to start a social circle from scratch.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s exciting’ because I’m not going into a locker room where I don’t know anyone,” he says. “Familiar faces make you feel welcome.”
Most often, we assume, with a couple jokes at your expense.