You’ve got to hand it to Nate Prosser.
In a league where depth defensemen are everywhere and easily can get squeezed out of a job because of that, the Elk River native has carved out a quality NHL career that will reach Season Nine this upcoming fall.
It won’t come in Minnesota though (well, we assume it won’t come in Minnesota as I’ll remind you below).
Prosser’s two-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 a season ($400,000 guarantees) with the St. Louis Blues is official. He’ll rejoin his former Wild coach, Mike Yeo, a few states south of us and may have a solid shot of making the Blues, who have a strong group of six defensemen on one-way contracts.
Prosser, 31, was by far the longest-serving and most successful college free-agent pickup in Wild history. He played parts of eight seasons, ranks 26th in franchise history with 282 games, seventh in franchise history with 475 blocked shots and was always the good soldier when it came to being that extra defenseman.
Always smiling and always positive, Prosser’s nature was why four different Wild coaches were perfectly comfortable having him be the seventh defenseman. Even those times Prosser was undoubtedly frustrated with his role, coaches never had to worry about him creating a stink or distraction in the locker room.
He just showed up daily, practiced hard and waited for his turn.
“I’ve kind of always been that seventh man here for six, seven years, but with Yeo and Torch (John Torchetti) and Bruce [Boudreau], they’ve all been so great and so honest with me,” Prosser said Wednesday night. “That’s something, I’ve told Bruce, ‘Thank you for always being so honest with me.’”
I remember when the Wild signed Prosser out of Colorado College.
To be blunt, I had never heard of him, was at my buddy’s house in Nashville when the news came and quickly added a few graphs to the next day’s paper and posted a blog.
Prosser showed up in Nashville the next morning, was affable but nervous and, frankly, I’m not sure how much I even wrote about him because he wasn’t supposed to play those final weeks of the 2009-10 season.
But lo and behold, a couple injuries occurred at the end of the season and instead of recalling a defenseman, the Wild rewarded Prosser by thrusting him into the final three games of the season in Edmonton, Calgary and at home against Dallas.
In his NHL debut, Prosser assisted on an Andrew Brunette goal against the Oilers and he got to experience the season finale at Xcel Energy Center.
“That was supposed to be [Mike] Modano’s last game,” Prosser reminded.
The Prosser highlight always will be scoring that Jan. 18, 2014, overtime winner against the Stars. It came on Hockey Day Minnesota, an event hosted at Elk River’s Handke Pit – the same place Prosser skated around all the time as a small kid -- a self-described “annoying little shrimp” and pipsqueak -- before growing a full foot his junior year of high school.
To this day, Prosser still hears from friends that they can’t believe of all the talented kids skating in Elk River during his younger days, Prosser’s THE guy that has a pro career that’s a year shy from a decade.
“There have been a lot of memorable games with the Wild, but that overtime winner, having Hockey Day being in Elk River, my hometown, knowing all the people watching, I mean, I never get out there in overtime, and then to get that chance where the [Nino Niederreiter rebound] just came to me, it was awesome,” Prosser said.
Prosser, a Seann William Scott clone, may go down as the Wild player who most took a hit to make a play, so to speak.
Nobody took a licking and kept on ticking like Prosser.
“Maybe I’ve got a little Gumby in me,” Prosser once told me.
Yeo, who respects Prosser wholeheartedly, once said of Prosser, “There’s certain messages that you can send to your teammates. It’s the ones I think where a player’s paying the price for his teammates that are the loudest and the clearest messages.”
Team-first. Charitable. Nice as can be. Shows up and works hard daily.
It’s a big reason our Professional Hockey Writers’ Association chapter once nominated him for the Masterton.
Prosser has talked to Yeo a few times this summer and particularly the past few days.
“I’ve been with him since Day One of pro hockey basically,” Prosser said. “I was in Houston with him and then I came up to Minnesota with him. He knows what I bring and I know his style and I know what he wants from me. He wants energy, he wants me to be physical and chirping and getting after guys and making that good first play. It’s just about being solid and playing good defensively. We have a good relationship. He’s a great guy for me to look up to.”
Prosser assumes he’s done in Minnesota. But remember, in 2014, Prosser signed with the Blues, didn’t make the team out of camp, was placed on waivers and the Wild, knowing what he brought in terms of depth, plucked him off waivers.
So who knows what tomorrow brings?
But if this is it for Prosser in Minnesota, he’s thankful.
He got married here, had three Minnesota-born daughters here because of the luxury of getting to play for his home-state Wild, got to play in front of his parents, siblings and 25 other family members often.
“And the fans have been unbelievable,” Prosser said. “In March and when playoff time comes around, you feel the buzz in this state. And there’s something about it that just gives you the goosebumps and makes you want it more and more. It’s been such a good journey. Whenever I look back at this experience, it’s been such a blessing to be able to play in my hometown for this long.”
I'm about to enter my 23rd season covering the NHL -- 13th covering the Wild. I've covered a lot of great human beings. Prosser's right up there at the top.