Ever since he was ushered up to the NHL from the minors in February 2018, defenseman Nick Seeler hasn’t left the Wild — parlaying a late-season call-up into a new contract and a regular role.
But the 25-year-old is still developing in his first full season, a process that has become magnified as the team has juggled seven defensemen.
“I’ve been working hard this year, trying to grow offensively a little more,” Seeler said. “But also I think when I’m successful, I think I’m hard in front and hard in the defensive zone and physical when it’s there and kind of putting pressure on guys and having good gaps. I think that’s when I’m successful, so I’ve been working to hone in on that part of my game.”
Seeler started this season where he left off, with a spot on the Wild’s blue line after signing a three-year, $2.175 million contract during the summer.
Early on, the 2011 fifth-round draft pick formed a steady third pairing with Greg Pateryn. But the loss of Matt Dumba in December to a torn pectoral muscle, coupled with the subsequent additions of Brad Hunt and Anthony Bitetto, have shaken up the Wild’s look.
Now, Seeler has been splitting minutes with Bitetto on the bottom unit next to Hunt.
“They’re both sort of similar players,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said of Seeler and Bitetto. “We just want to keep them both active playing.”
That means Seeler has been idle occasionally, with Monday the sixth time he has been a healthy scratch this season. Although that’s been a challenging change, Seeler — who has two goals and six points in 62 games while recording 65 hits and 97 blocked shots — has tried to remain positive and use the time out of the lineup to improve.
“There’s definitely a learning curve that you need to have, and I’m still learning the game,” he said. “But I feel really confident in my game right now. I feel strong.”
Center Victor Rask returned to the lineup against the Sharks after missing 12 games because of a lower-body injury suffered Feb. 12 against the Flyers when he stepped on a puck — a much longer absence than Rask anticipated.
“When you come to a new team, you obviously want to come and play good right away and definitely not get injured [and] miss games,” Rask said. “But that’s what happened.”
Before getting hurt, Rask contributed a goal and an assist in 10 games after getting traded to the Wild Jan. 17 from the Hurricanes in exchange for winger Nino Niederreiter, who has thrived since joining Carolina.
In 23 games with Carolina, Niederreiter has racked up 11 goals and 21 points after he tallied nine and 23, respectively, in 46 games for the Wild.
Although Rask hasn’t had as much opportunity to settle in with his new team, he has a chance now to make an impact at the most critical time of the season.
“I told him [Sunday] he hasn’t had a lot of success,” Boudreau said. “But with 12 games left, you could change everybody’s mind.”
Rest vs. reps
The Wild has four days off scattered throughout the remainder of its season-long five-game homestand, and balancing downtime with on-ice reps will be a focus.
“With our team, rest is probably more useful than grinding them out at this stage,” Boudreau said. “On the other hand, we have a lot of new guys in the lineup from the last month that we have to get something out of every practice. I think with the guys that play a lot, rest or maintenance days or whatever you want to call them is going to be important this week.”