When Nick Seeler arrived for the Minnesota Wild's development camp this summer, he understood the challenge he faced.
"I knew the guys I would be playing against would be bigger and faster than those I had played against before," Seeler said. "But, I also felt I was ready for it. So far, it's been a great experience."
The 23-year-old native of Eden Prairie is now one of several rookies making an impression in the early days of the season with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League. Along with rookies like Alex Tuch, Adam Gilmour and Hunter Warner, Minnesota's fifth-round draft choice in 2011 already has impressed the coaches in Des Moines and in St. Paul with a willingness to learn and a combative competitiveness.
"He is a guy who would rather tame a tiger instead of poke a mouse," said David Cunniff, the Iowa Wild's associate coach. "[Seeler] is a guy who is going to compete and that isn't something that you can teach."
As he did last season when he played at the University of Minnesota, Seeler has shown an eagerness to learn how to play the game at its highest levels.
"When you enter the professional environment, it's really about learning how to make the game simpler," Seeler said. "Things like stick position, gap control, and where you are supposed to be on the ice are the things you have to learn quickly because these guys have such speed and size."
Seeler credits his family and his faith to helping make it into professional hockey. "Those are the two most important things in my life," he said.
His father, Dan, a business owner, played hockey and soccer in college and his two sisters also were college athletes - one a soccer player; the other a hockey player.
Nick, the youngest of the children, said the athletic competition with his sisters could at times get intense.
"We would play pond hockey and when I got bigger, I liked pushing them around," he said. "They didn't like that so much."
For a while, Seeler said, he questioned how far he would go playing hockey. As sophomore in high school, Seeler said he played on the junior varsity team, but couldn't get ice time on varsity squad. In addition, he played golf for the high school team.
"After that year, I decided I wanted to commit myself to playing hockey and see how far I could get," he said.
Then something else happened that made his ascent up the ladder a lot easier - he grew close to six inches over his last three years in high school. "My sophomore year I was only about 5-foot-6, then my junior year I was 5-foot-11. That certainly was a bit different," he said.
After graduating from high school, Seeler's first hockey promotion came in 2011-12 when the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL drafted him. Halfway through the season, Seeler made his way to Des Moines for the first time, playing for the USHL's Buccaneers.
"I had always lived in one place until I was 18, then suddenly I have to move twice from one city to another one," Seeler said, adding that the experience was a valuable on. "I learned how to deal with living in different places at a pretty young age. That was helpful."
During his only year in the USHL, Seeler managed to attract a scholarship offer from the University of Nebraska-Omaha where he placed two seasons. Then he decided to transfer to Minnesota where his sisters had competed.
"I had a blast," Seeler said even though he had to sit-out a year under NCAA rules. "We had a good team and the experience was great all around."
He also took advantage of the year not playing for the Gophers to concentrate on his academics. As a result, Seeler earned a bachelor's degree in business management by the end of his first season. On the ice, Seeler had only 10 points, but finished a 36 game schedule with a +21 rating.
Armed with his degree, Seeler decided it was time to try to make it in professional hockey. He signed a contract with the Wild in March.
"It seemed to me I was as ready as I was going to be," he said. "I wanted a new challenge and thought this was about the biggest one I could find."
Cunniff, who directs the defensemen in Iowa, believes Seeler made the right choice. He said the defenseman's ability to learn will help him improve his game enough to make the NHL possible.
"The mistakes he makes are hard mistakes and we can coach that," Cunniff said. "He actually doesn't make many mistakes when he is out there. "
Seeler said that he considers Cunniff "a great coach."
"He knows the game so well and he is so positive with us," he said. "I learn something every day from him."
Seeler also said that he's encouraged about the Wild's season despite early defensive problems. He credited goalie Steve Michalek with helping out the defensemen.
"He really has been standing on his head at times," Seeler said, "He has been so solid for us and kept us in a lot of games."
His outlook for the rest of the season is a positive one as well.
"We've got several great veterans who are very approachable and are willing to help a lot," Seeler said. "We also are learning each day how to get better as a team not just as individuals."