Nick Seeler was back with the Wild on Thursday after a nearly two-week conditioning stint in the minors and although he spent a chunk of the morning skating with the team, Seeler finished the session in a familiar position: working out on an almost empty sheet of ice as a healthy scratch.
But after getting reacquainted with game mode in the American Hockey League, the defenseman is hopeful he will soon log NHL action.
“It was a great experience to get down there and get some games,” Seeler said. “But I’m excited to be back up.”
After sitting as a scratch for 35 of the Wild’s first 41 games, including 11 in a row to close out the first half of the season, Seeler accepted a conditioning assignment to join Iowa.
“You can only bag [skate] so much,” Seeler said. “The game shape is a little bit different. I feel great. I felt really good down there.”
The 26-year-old appeared in six games with Iowa, tallying two assists and five shots and finishing the stretch plus-9. Whether Seeler cracks the Wild lineup in the near future will depend on how the team performs, coach Bruce Boudreau said.
A regular on the blue line last season, Seeler was projected to resume that role this season but slid out of the top six amid the emergence of rookie Carson Soucy. This season has “definitely been the toughest year for me,” Seeler said, but he’s focused on staying upbeat.
“I’m thinking about coming out on the positive end of it and just working through and trying to get better even though I’m not playing,” Seeler said. “It’s been hard. That’s one of the reasons I went down to get some games so I can feel confident up here. I’m ready for that.
“… I worked so hard in the summer to prepare for a long year, and only playing six games is definitely hard. Just keeping a positive attitude and controlling what I can. I’m doing what I can to help the team, whether that’s being a good guy in practice or working extremely hard. I’ll do whatever it takes to get in.”
The Wild mixed up most of its lines ahead of facing the Lightning, starting Thursday’s game with three new trios.
Zach Parise joined Eric Staal and Mats Zuccarello at the top of the depth chart. Jason Zucker, Victor Rask and Kevin Fiala filled out the second unit. The Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin partnership remained intact, but the fourth line had a shake-up — with captain Mikko Koivu centering Jordan Greenway and Ryan Hartman.
“We haven’t been successful, right?” Boudreau said. “The hockey world makes changes when you’re not successful, so we’re making changes in the lines.”
Soucy is back on the third defensive pairing after a strong showing last month on the second unit next to Jonas Brodin, and his offensive production has cooled off following a 12-game spurt in December in which he scored four times and chipped in four assists.
But Boudreau hasn’t noticed Soucy’s effectiveness waver too much.
“He’s tapered off a little bit, [but] he hasn’t come down,” Boudreau said. “Like he was our best defenseman [Tuesday]. But I don’t think we can count on him right now to continue to score at the pace he was scoring at. But I think he’s been as steady as she goes.
“Like everybody else, he’ll make a mistake here or there. But he’s pretty accountable. I can count on him pretty well.”
Hunt out again
Defenseman Brad Hunt (sick) was absent from the team’s morning skate and was scratched for a third game in a row.