You’ve got to feel for Nate Prosser.
Every day, reporters show up to practice and look down at the ice to find out which defenseman is paired with Prosser. That indicates who will be scratched the next game. That’s how the media figured out Marco Scandella would sit Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets.
The Wild is carrying eight healthy defensemen, two more than typically dress for a game. For the second season in a row, Prosser is the eighth. He’s the only one who hasn’t played any of the four games this season.
“He’s just got to hang in there,” coach Mike Yeo said.
Every day Prosser shows up at the rink ready to work and puts on a smile to mask what’s got to be frustration.
“I’m just trying to stay as positive as I can and be ready when my number’s called,” Prosser said. “Mentally, it can be pretty tough at times. But that’s the name of the game. It’s the position I’m in, just waiting around for an injury or bad play. And hopefully none of that happens.”
What’s ironic is the Wild’s usually successful when he plays. The Wild was 11-6 with Prosser in the lineup last season. He was on the ice for two goals against all season — the first coming in his 10th game, the second coming on a Detroit garbage power-play goal with 14 seconds left in a 4-2 Wild victory. He skates well, has a good shot, makes a good first pass, and gets in opposing forwards faces when they stray too close to his goaltender.
The problem for Prosser is where he sits on the depth chart. Yeo doesn’t feel the right-shot Prosser can play the left side, and standing ahead of him on the right are Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, veteran Keith Ballard and, when he plays the left, rookie Matt Dumba, a 2012 first-round pick the Wild is trying to get a good look at.
Whether it’s fair or not, often budding prospects like Dumba are afforded more of a chance than a 27-year-old college free-agent signee like Prosser.
Prosser, an Elk River native who played at Colorado College, can become a free agent next summer. If his NHL career is to continue, he may need the Wild to give him a chance in the minors or elsewhere. He says he hasn’t had that conversation with General Manager Chuck Fletcher.
“I’m just taking it day by day and see what situation I’m in the next day,” Prosser said. “We have a great group of guys here and they make it easier on me. I’m trying not to focus on things that are out of my control. But in the back of my mind, I know I’m unrestricted this next summer and I kind of need to play to get another deal.
“It’s kind of a tough spot, but I’m just trying to be positive.”
Darcy Kuemper was recalled to back up Josh Harding against the Jets, but the Wild has hope that goalie Niklas Backstrom (knee) won’t be off the ice long and could potentially return to the cage on the upcoming four-game road trip.
If not, Kuemper, spotless during the Wild’s preseason, may be in line for his fourth NHL start Monday in Buffalo or Tuesday in Toronto. He is 1-2 in six regular-season games with a 2.08 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage for the Wild. He also played in two playoff games last season.
• Stephane Veilleux made his season debut for the Wild.