At the beginning of the season, Head Coach Mike Yeo had a message for defenseman Nate Prosser
: Be patient.
With eight blueliners on the roster, Prosser became one of the odd-men out as the season got underway. Through six games, the press box was his usual haunt as he waited for the Wild to call his number.
“Obviously it’s tough,” Prosser said. “I just tried to do what was in my control. That was out of my control. There was nothing I could do to get in the lineup other than work hard in practice and wait for my turn. When it was, I just wanted to play well.”
On Oct. 14 as the Wild kicked off a four-game road trip in Buffalo, defenseman Keith Ballard was struck in the face with a puck. The next night in Toronto, Prosser got his first chance. In just under 14 minutes of ice time, the defenseman registered one shot on goal as the Wild fell 4-1. He didn’t return to the lineup for a week.
But his patience eventually paid off once again. When the Wild returned home to face the Predators Tuesday, Prosser got the call again. The Elk River, Minn., native made his presence felt between helping out on the a penalty kill that killed off both of Nashville’s man-advantages on the night, logging 20:29 minutes in the game and drawing a fight with Nashville’s Eric Nystrom.
“He works his butt off,” Yeo said. “When he gets that opportunity to go in the game, he doesn’t try to kick it up to another level. That’s the way he’s been practicing, he’s been working, and he’s ready for it.”
“When my number was called I just wanted to be ready, to jump in and help the team win,” Prosser said Wednesday after practice. “We were able to do that. Being able to get out there and compete was a lot of fun for me.”
Prosser’s TOI Tuesday was buoyed by the loss of fellow defenseman Jonas Brodin. In the first period, Brodin, like Ballard, took a puck to the face, fracturing his right cheekbone. Brodin left for the remainder of the game, stranding the Wild with five defensemen who proved their strength en route to a 2-0 shutout victory over Nashville.
With Brodin out indefinitely, Prosser has yet another opportunity to get in more game reps.
“This is kind of the opportunity I’ve been waiting for,” Prosser said. “Obviously you never want an injury — I’m praying for Brods (Brodin) and a speedy recovery there — but when a guy goes down, guys have to step in and pick up their game. That’s where I come in.”
Thursday night, Prosser didn’t disappoint. With 18:55 TOI, Prosser picked up his first point of the season on an assist on Dany Heatley’s empty-netter, which sealed the Wild’s 3-1 victory over the Hurricanes. Prosser also picked up three blocked shots in the tilt.
Early in the season, Yeo knew Prosser would eventually get his chance, but acknowledged how difficult it can be to sit out. Prosser didn’t let it get to him and went through mental reps as he watching the game, using it to make his game better.
That attitude he brings to all aspects of his situations is one of the main reasons Prosser is able to have a positive impact those few times this season his number was called. According to Yeo, Prosser’s ability to stay in a positive mindset has made all the difference.
“I just try to stay positive and work hard on and off the ice in practice and in the weight room,” Prosser said. “I kind of just wait for my number to be called and when it is, I want to be ready to go. I want to be 100 percent, just ready to get in there and play my A-game.”