Nick Seeler’s entire career playing hockey has never been about offense. His highest total ever for goals was back when he scored seven goals for Eden Prairie High School. It’s that kind of production, or lack thereof, that worried some when Seeler was re-called by the Wild on February 11th for an injured Jared Spurgeon.
Spurgeon is a solid offensive defenseman for the Wild and is deadly in transition. Seeler, had just two goals for the Iowa Wild (AHL) in 116 games. He was not going to replace Jared Spurgeon both in terms of offensive production, nor his ability to influence offense. The Eden Prairie kid never once worried about that.
Instead, he came in and played a simple game - his game - and just wouldn’t allow himself to be taken out of the line-up. He was sent down, briefly, when the Wild had their hand forced by the salary cap once Spurgeon returned from injury. He returned because head coach Bruce Boudreau coveted his size and toughness, but also his simple play that this team needed.
Seeler kept the big forwards away from his goalie. He denied the opposition the top of the crease. So much so that he ranked just behind Mikko Koivu for tops on the team in High-danger shot attempts. Even better, he was the best defenseman that played over 20 games in scoring chances against per hour.
If a defenseman can’t be a factor offensively, he needs to be a difference maker on the defensive side of the puck. Think the inverse of Matt Dumba, even though Dumba’s short-comings on defense have been vastly exaggerated. Seeler made his time count on the ice.
He notched four assists, and added two more in the playoffs. In the offensive zone, he doesn’t waste time and just puts the puck on net. There’s no dusting the puck off; no dumping the puck deep again, or standing still with the puck on his stick. He makes a quick pass to a forward or shoots toward the net, hoping for something to happen. It was something that was even noticeable during prospect development camp way back in 2016.
That said, Seeler’s season is perhaps most memorable for his fight with Luke Witkoski of the Detroit Red Wings. Never yielding to a physical challenge, Seeler answered the bell and exchanged haymakers with Witkoski in a good, old fashioned slobber-knocker. The fight was in retaliation for run taken by the Red Wings toward Zach Parise. Seeler was having none of it, and his teammates appreciated the response from the kid.
But to focus solely on that fight and his willingness to dance only misses the very positives he brought to the team. When Ryan Suter was out with a talus and fibula break, the Wild relied heavily on Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin. But someone needed to spell those two, and we’d quickly find out if Seeler could handle the pressure or be exposed. Admittedly, the Wild were far and above over-matched by the Jets, but Seeler did still find himself in the top half of shots against per 60 minutes, just behind Dumba for top defenseman. The former EPHS Eagle also held a 60 percent in goals for percentage throughout the five games of the Wild’s post-season appearance. Seeler had issues with the bigger Jets forwards, as did the rest of the Wild, but he managed better results than many of his teammates as well.
Ultimately Seeler can rest assured that he’s made the coaching staff consider him a real candidate for Opening Night with the NHL Wild next season. We didn’t know what to expect from him in the slightest. Clearly offense isn’t the lynch-pin of his game. He can be just as effective by denying goals rather than scoring them. to give a letter grade, I think a solid B is appropriate. He will need to be more than what he is now, and show he can do it year-over-year, but for what we were expecting and we he was able to do, I think we can be pleased with what he actually did for this team on the ice, even if he was never going to replace an injured Jared Spurgeon.