It’s finally time. Nick Seeler is finally getting his opportunity. Finally getting that big chance to show what he can do well at the NHL level. After 49 hard-fought games down in Iowa where he was getting top pairing minutes and is the only member of Derek Lalonde’s defensive corps that hadn’t been scratched this season, all that nose-to-the-grindstone work by Iowa's most consistent player has earned him a chance at the NHL.
With the call-up, there can be a lot of speculation about other moves for the Wild organization before the trade deadline coming in just two weeks, but make no mistake that this is a well deserved moment for the former Gopher and Eden Prairie native.
I’d have to admit, I was rather put off that the Wild decided to let Viktor Lööv get the call for the left side over Seeler following a trade that sent 2011 second-rounder, Mario Lucia, and 2012 6th-rounder, Christoph Bertschy to the Devils organization last Thursday. Maybe it had to do with Lööv’s 214 AHL games, a number that Bruce Boudreau has been vocal about regarding player development in the A. Maybe it was that he has 17 points to his name at the AHL level, albeit with a struggling North Division squad in Binghamton.
Seeler, a fifth-round pick out of Eden Prairie High School back in 2011, had been playing some tremendous defense down in the A, though it is easy to poke holes considering that he produced just 12 points (2G/10A) in his second professional season - surpassing his lowly 5 points (all assists) in 57 games his rookie season.
So, what are the Minnesota Wild getting in Seeler for Tuesday night's game against the New York Rangers?
Defensively speaking, there aren’t too many players that bring the kind of game Seeler did with the Iowa Wild. I know that a lot of people have mentioned that Carson Soucy might be a name that could be counted amongst the Iowa players in need of being “freed,” but it still remains that he is a rookie and from a development standpoint it makes more sense to go with the guy that has the experience.
But it isn’t just all about professional games under the belt. In his own end, Seeler’s game is nothing short of bulldog-ish, whether it’s near his goalie’s crease or venturing into the corners to win puck battles and lay the lumber. He plays with a lot of raw emotion, and there is a noticeable uptick in his intensity when he does make a mistake on an assignment or he gets out-bodied by an opposing forward. The physical nature of his game is where he excels, something that is very important in the Western Conference.
Boudreau was quoted as saying, “I think he’s what we need...he’s big and a defensive defenseman. I think that bodes well for us.”
With a few Iowa players getting a lukewarm reception from the Wild’s head coach in the past, it’s pretty high praise for an NHL debut. As the Wild are a bubble team in the playoff race, solid defense can make a difference.
What also makes Seeler special is that he’s a solid teammate who wants to do good by the other guys in the locker room. There was a pretty spirited debate regarding his role as a pugilist in the comments section in my profile of the left-hander, but he’s far from a “goon” and I’ll defend that to the bitter end. There’s a difference between looking for fights and standing up for others. His last tilly came because of a blind-side hit on an off-balanced Ryan Murphy that put him head and neck first into the boards.
There are some short-comings to his game as well though. The emotional game can also lead to bad penalties, and if he’s looking to make his way in the NHL, “skates of shame” can’t be a part of his growth. He got away with some things this past weekend, namely a punch to the head of Rockford’s Matthew Highmore as the two were tangled up and the puck was leaving the zone.
To be fair though, instances like that are few and far between, but they have happened.
In his offensive game, the production admittedly leaves something to be desired, but there is offense to be had. In Minnesota, he’s there to play defense, not be a Jared Spurgeon-type (hold out for Brennan Menell). That said, he’s a great skater who can avoid forechecks and get pucks out of the defensive zone. At any level he’s been at, he hasn’t been Mr. Offense, and that’s worth keeping in mind.
When at the point in the offensive zone, I don’t believe I’ve seen him make too many egregious mistakes that lead to turnovers and rushes for the opposition. On the blueline, he maintains well at the point - he pinches at appropriate times, makes good decisions to relinquish positioning to maintain OZ possession, and he’ll put pucks on net rather than think too much about making that extra pass. He’s a cerebral player, and in Iowa, Lalonde has seen an improvement on his work ethic and thinking about his assignments.
Big intermission film guy.
On a personal level, I hope he performs well. It’s also worth saying that the AHL is not the NHL, just as any development league in any sport isn’t the same as the top tier. There’s a learning curve to be navigated, but I think that his approach to the game and general demeanor are qualities that will be to his advantage. Playing “scared” is not something to expect. He’s definitely worth a bottom pairing, maintenance role. If he’s able to chip in offense, so be it.