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It Can Be Done For College Free Agents

by Dan Myers / Minnesota Wild

At this time one year ago, Colorado College senior defenseman Nate Prosser was battling with New York Islander prospects in the midst of his second NHL Development Camp. He was facing both high Entry Draft selections like John Tavares, as well as highly touted talent from other Canadian junior leagues.

Undrafted and not getting any younger, Prosser was looking for anything and everything that would improve his chances at earning an NHL contract following his senior season.

Flash forward to Tuesday, where Prosser is back at Prospect Camp, but this time with a deal in place, three games of NHL experience and a legitimate chance to earn an NHL roster spot this fall, less than a year removed from his final collegiate season. Participating in his third prospect camp this week at the Xcel Energy Center, Prosser feels like a veteran.

"I remember my first one," Prosser said of his experience two years ago in St. Louis. "I was so nervous I could hardly skate."

College free agents signing with the Wild was a rare occurrence prior to last season, when the Wild inked deals with Prosser, Casey Wellman and Jarod Palmer. But General Manager Chuck Fletcher has been adamant that the franchise needs to restock the shelves with young talent, which could bode well for three new college free agents at the Wild's camp.

This week at Xcel Energy Center, UMD's Justin Fontaine, Bemidji State's Matt Read and Miami-Ohio's Cameron Schilling are in the same position that Prosser was in one year ago.

"Just being an invitee, you know, it doesn't matter," Prosser said. ""Go work hard and try to outperform the guys that were drafted and signed."

Certainly, being in St. Paul this week should help make Fontaine, Read and Schilling better players heading into their upcoming college seasons. It did for Palmer, who was looking to get noticed last summer before his final season at Miami of Ohio.

"Getting a taste of the NHL and the level you need to be at in this camp really helps you," said Palmer, a Fridley native. "It makes you realize how much better you need to become your senior year."

For Palmer, the groundwork was laid last summer for his eventual signing with the Wild. He's participating in his second prospect camp this week and second with the Wild after a solid showing last year.

"I learned quite a bit last year when I was at camp," Palmer said. "I definitely needed to work on protecting the puck a little better. There were a couple of guys here last year who I couldn't take the puck from. I always thought I was really good at that and they stole it from me like I was a baby.

That made me realize I needed to work on that [as a senior]."

Prospect camp is nothing new to Read, who will return to Bemidji State this fall. He's been in camps in Boston and Tampa Bay, and two weeks ago, skated with the New York Rangers. Like Palmer, Read is looking to do some networking this week in St. Paul. Despite fielding multiple pro offers earlier in the offseason, Read, a second team All-American last season, declared he was returning to northern Minnesota just after his junior season ended.

Admittedly, he said there probably wasn't a single offer out there that would force him to leave, seeing as the Beavers will join the WCHA and open a brand new arena this winter.

"I want to better myself so I can bring it back up to Bemidji," Read said of his goals for the week. "I want to develop as a player so that next year, after all of these development camps, maybe I can get a chance to play in the NHL."

Like Read, Fontaine will return to northern Minnesota this fall for his senior season -- however he will head to the North Shore to open a new arena with Minnesota Duluth.

This is Fontaine's first development camp and he said that after two days, its been an eye opening experience.

"It's been a great experience so far," Fontaine said. "They treat you well. You just have to try and ask a lot of questions to the guys that have been to these."

There is little doubt Fontaine will receive an opportunity at a professional contract following his senior season. He's scored more than 40 points each of the last two seasons and will likely be a first team forward selection in most preseason WCHA polls.

"I want to get faster and just improve in all areas of the ice," Fontaine said. "I want to work on everything and hopefully it will show when I get back to Duluth."
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