As a member of his hometown team with the respect and admiration of his coach and teammates, Nick Seeler seemingly had pretty much everything he could ask for in an NHL career.
Except the playing time.
So it was with mixed emotions that the 26-year-old defenseman moved his equipment from the Wild's dressing room to the Blackhawks' last week after being picked up on waivers ahead of Chicago's game in Minnesota on Feb. 4. An Eden Prairie, Minn., native who finished his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota, Seeler has a new lease on his NHL life and is looking to prove he can contribute to a Blackhawks team in a dogfight for a Western Conference postseason berth.
"When I heard it was Chicago I was so pumped," Seeler said. "It's a great organization with great leadership in the room. Obviously, it's a big change for me going from my hometown team being in Minnesota and basically just pushing my bag across the hall into the other locker room and meeting new guys and teammates.
"So far, it's been a great transition," Seeler added. "The guys have been really great in welcoming me in. I just want to get to know them a little bit more and I'm excited to be with this team."
Most exciting is the opportunity to take the ice for the Blackhawks. After being a regular along the blue line last season during which he averaged 12 minutes, 20 seconds of ice time per game with Minnesota, Seeler appeared in six games this season - and another six in the AHL while on a conditioning stint - with the Wild. The rest of the time, Seeler, the Wild's fifth-round selection (131st overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft, was a healthy scratch. Being popular and donning the sweater of the team in your hometown only goes so far when the desire is to be out on the ice.
"In anyone's career you have to deal with adversity and push through things (and) … I definitely think this is one of those where you push through," Seeler said. "Obviously, (it's been) a difficult year but I worked extremely hard and was mentally ready for when my name got called. I think that helped me to be where I am today and continue to move forward and push through that tough time.
"Change is hard for anyone, especially kind of uprooting yourself in the middle of the year and especially knowing all of those guys in Minnesota and trying to mesh with a new group," Seeler added.
Seeler did his best to mesh given his first opportunity to hit the ice with the Blackhawks. After sitting the first two games since being claimed, Seeler made his Blackhawks debut against the Jets on Sunday night and made an immediate impact. Not only did he pick up his first point of the season with an assist on Brandon Saad's first-period goal during the Blackhawks' 5-2 defeat, Seeler displayed the physical side of his game by faring well in a fight with the Jets' Nathan Beaulieu.
Down the stretch, each of the Blackhawks' games will have the feel of postseason contests where that kind of physicality will be welcomed.
"I'd like to bring that grittiness and a little bit of sandpaper down the stretch here with obviously a huge couple of months here pushing for the playoffs," Seeler said. "I can tell this group is excited for that opportunity and I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said having the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Seeler in the mix should provide his teammates a little more time and space with the puck.
"(Seeler) is a big body, physical (and) likes the contact," said Colliton, said. "He likes to compete and that's good, it will add something to our group. He's got a little toughness, little edge, where he can make players uncomfortable."
Colliton also praised Seeler's reputation as a good teammate and presence in the dressing room and welcomed another option on the back end.
"We're going to need that depth and he's going to get an opportunity to show he can help us and we're looking forward to that," Colliton said.
The Blackhawks are getting a more polished and disciplined version of Seeler than in his younger days. Early on, Seeler was known to have a bit of a temper on the ice and that sometimes manifested in play detrimental to his team.
"Back in the day when I was younger, I definitely had that fire and it's still there but it's just more controlled now," Seeler said. "Over the years I think I've gotten good at controlling that and using it in a positive way."
Seeler credited former coaches and his father, Dan, with helping him become more centered.
"Coaches have had big impacts on me - I've had a lot of help and positivity surrounding my hockey career," Nick Seeler said. "Growing up you learn and you grow and learn what you can and can't do and what's over the edge and what's on the edge.
"It just comes with experience and playing games and being around a group of guys," he added. "I think getting older and a little more mature and growing as a person and as a hockey player comes with that."
Seeler, who called himself "a big food guy" is thrilled to be in a city "where there are a ton of good restaurants that I'll have to poke around in," and plans on doing his utmost to become a staple in Chicago. He is in the second year of a three-year contract that carries an AAV of $725,000 and wants to showcase his talents to the Blackhawks so he can stick around a while.
"This is just a good opportunity to kind of show what you have and how you can help the team," Seeler said. "It's a lively city with a great hockey and sports fan base. I'm excited just to be a part of this."