It wouldn’t have done Nate Prosser any good to complain about his situation. The Wild defenseman knew he would be best served by putting his energy into being ready to re-enter the lineup, a strategy that paid off Tuesday.
With the Wild looking to shore up its penalty kill — and Keith Ballard still sidelined — Prosser played his second game of the season, against Nashville at Xcel Energy Center. The Elk River native had gotten into the lineup for the first time Oct. 15 at Toronto. Coach Mike Yeo chose to use Prosser to reward him for his tenacity and take advantage of his defensive abilities against an opponent he expected to play a “scratch and claw-type’’ game.
Yeo said he told Prosser he would need to be patient early this season. He appreciated that Prosser has handled his limited playing time in a professional manner, working to earn more without lamenting his place, and he lauded him after Tuesday’s 2-0 victory.
“He really elevated his game tonight,’’ Yeo said of Prosser, who played 20 minutes, 29 seconds in a game in which an injury to Jonas Brodin left the Wild without a key defenseman. “He’s worked his tail off, and he’s come to the rink with a good attitude. He’s done everything we’ve asked.’’
Ballard missed his fourth game since being hit in the face with a puck during a game at Buffalo last week. He has not skated this week, and the timetable for his return is uncertain.
“I’ve been working hard in practice and in the weight room to prepare for this moment,’’ Prosser said. “I just want to do what’s in my control: stay positive, be a good team guy and be ready when my number is called.’’
With Prosser in, rookie defenseman Matt Dumba was a healthy scratch. As he watched Tuesday’s game from the press box, his vantage point wasn’t the only thing that gave him a view different from that of the fans.
Yeo instructed Dumba to watch the game in an analytical manner, taking mental notes on the strengths of the defensemen and looking for qualities he can incorporate into his own game. The message: Everything he does, including sitting in the press box, is part of his NHL education.
The coach praised Dumba for maintaining steady performance, even as the level of play has ratcheted up through the early weeks of the season. While Dumba said he feels confident in his play, he is not content.
“I never want to be comfortable here,” he said. “I’ve got to come to the rink every day and be at my best. I’ve got to challenge myself every day to get better, to do whatever it takes to stay in the lineup.”
Former Wild center Matt Cullen, who signed with Nashville last summer, already had faced his former team earlier this season. Tuesday marked the first time Cullen played at Xcel Energy Center since moving to the Predators, and he admitted it felt strange walking past the home locker room and into the visitors’ quarters.
Cullen entered Tuesday’s game with two goals and two assists, centering a pair of third-year players — Gabriel Bourque and Craig Smith — on the second line. He is mentoring them as he did with many young Wild players, and Nashville coach Barry Trotz is grateful to have him in that role.
“They seem to have real good chemistry,” Trotz said. “He’s been a good fit for us. He’s a veteran player who prepares well, who’s a real good pro on and off the ice. Young guys feed off of that.”
Cullen received a warm ovation from fans during the first period. He said some friends and family planned to attend Tuesday’s game, but not many.
“I think a lot of people are sick of watching me play,” he said, laughing. “They’ve seen me enough. They’ll stay home and watch on TV.”
• Wild center Charlie Coyle (sprained knee) took a step forward in his recovery, skating alone Tuesday before the team’s morning skate. The timetable for his return remains uncertain.