ST. PAUL -- When Wild defenseman Ryan Suter went down with a fractured ankle in the final two weeks of the regular season, a giant hole was opened on the team's blueline.
In the games since Suter went down, Nick Seeler has done his best to step up.
Sunday night in the Wild's 6-2 Game 3 win over the Winnipeg Jets, Seeler may have had his best game as a pro.
"He's not playing like a guy that has only played 25 games in the NHL before," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau.
On the contrary, the 24-year-old former Eden Prairie Eagle has looked more like a savvy veteran with a few hundred games under his belt.
Sunday aside, when Seeler assisted on two goals for his first career playoff points, Seeler's contributions often don't come on the scoresheet.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is a godsend for goaltender Devan Dubnyk as a willing combatant in the real estate in front of the blue paint. It's not an easy job, but somebody has to do it. Not only is Seeler willing, but he's also really good at it. That doesn't go unnoticed.
"He's intense and he plays hard. He's not a guy you want to go in the corner with," Dubnyk said. "It's something that, coming in, it's important for us to have. His level of intensity is great, and especially in the playoffs, you want somebody that's going to play mean like that."
Video: Wild discuss Game 3 win at home
Perhaps Seeler's biggest contribution in Game 3 came just before he earned his two assists. Protecting a one-goal lead midway through the second period, the Wild was forced to kill back-to-back penalties against a power play that ranked as one of the NHL's best during the regular season.
Seeler was a horse on the kills, blocking two big shots on those kills and four in the game overall.
Moments after the second penalty was killed, the Wild scored three goals in a span of 3 minutes, 43 seconds, turning a 3-2 nail-biter into a 6-2 no-doubter.
For a guy who's never been a big point producer at any level, Seeler seemed almost more pleased with the blocked shots than his two helpers.
"Any way I can help the team," Seeler said. "Whether it's a couple of blocks or chipping in on the offense when it presents itself."
Seeler even came close to finishing his first NHL goal off earlier in the second, jumping up into a short-handed rush and taking in a pass from Daniel Winnik on a 2-on-1. Seeler, a lefty shot, gathered in the pass from his left and had the wherewithal to get off a great shot, beating goaltender Connor Hellebuyck off the inside of the left post. The puck danced along the goal line and somehow didn't go in, sliding out of danger.
"I don't think guys knew much about him coming into this year or expected him to be up here and playing such a big role. I don't know if he thought of it," said Wild forward Charlie Coyle. "But here he is, playing really good and learning a lot. And he seems to be getting better as time goes on.
"He plays like a beast out there and that's what we need."
Video: Boudreau Postgame vs Jets
That beast has already earned himself the respect of veterans. His willingness to do the dirty work makes it easy for his teammates to feel good for him when he does find the scoresheet, because so often his good deeds go undetected.
It's not an emotion easily stirred by a 25-game rookie, especially with the number of vets inside the Wild's dressing room.
"Usually the things he does don't find the scoresheet and he isn't publicly rewarded," Dubnyk said. "I think for him, that's kind of ingrained in him and that's never going to change. The more experience he gets, you can already see him doing all these things better each night. All that other stuff is in his blood."
And while the Wild would love to have its All-Star defenseman in the lineup against the powerful Jets, the on-the-job experience Seeler and Carson Soucy are getting will be invaluable for them going forward.
But this isn't a team that is simply writing the season based on an ill-timed injury to Suter. Game 3's performance proved that, and so did Seeler's.
"Important for them individually, but it's important for us," Dubnyk said. "We need it from these guys. And it's good to gain that experience, but if we're going to win, we're going to need everybody in here and they're certainly doing their part."