When the Minnesota Wild signed college free agent Nate Prosser
after he completed his senior season at Colorado College, it was done primarily to secure summer negotiating rights for the Wild to sign him for the 2010-2011 season.
After signing in March, Prosser was unable to be sent to Houston, so the plan was for him to stay with the big club for a month, giving him the chance see how things worked at the NHL level. Things changed when the Wild's lineup was decimated by injuries, and Prosser entered the lineup and he was actually playing at the NHL level for the final three games of the year.
After a shaky first period, the Elk River native looked comfortable and skilled in NHL play, gaining valuable experience, and showing he may not be far from cracking an NHL roster. He played the final three games of the season, posted a +2 rating, an assist and an impressive 19:36 average ice time.
"To get into those three games was a great experience for me to see where I'm at, and where I need to improve," said Prosser on Wednesday, just three days short of his wedding. "It gave me a lot of confidence going into this summer, knowing that I'm that close to having a spot. I need to push it to the next level so I can stay there."
He hopes that is with the Wild, and he'll have that chance thanks to the Wild signing him to a one-year deal on Wednesday. The club also signed rugged winger Matt Kassian
to a two-year deal. Both contracts are two-way, meaning both Prosser and Kassian can be sent to Houston without having to clear waivers.
As it stands now, Prosser looks to be competing for the seventh defensive spot on the team. Barring trade or a free agent signing, the defensive corps will include Cam Barker, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz, Clayton Stoner
, Greg Zanon and Marek Zidlicky. If the Wild keeps one extra defenseman, it appears that Prosser and Marco Scandella
will have the best shot at landing that roster spot.
"After the season was over, they told me not to have the mindset of playing down in Houston," he said. "They said to go into the summer and training camp with the mindset that you're going to be playing up. I'm trying to give it everything I've got in the weight room, getting stronger and improving in the areas I need to to be ready in training camp to make that last spot."
Prosser's signing isn't the only one that presents an opportunity. Kassian, a 2005 second round pick, has slowly put himself in position to battle for an NHL roster spot. With one day remaining before the free agency hits, it's possible Derek Boogaard may not return. Should the Wild feel it needs a heavyweight, Kassian may fit that mold.
"There's still a long way to go to get to that point," he admitted. "You've got to have a great training camp, and take it from there. But the longer you work at it, and the harder you work, the more likely it is that you'll get that opportunity, and the closer you feel. It definitely feels like I'm getting closer to making the team or getting a call up, and that's my goal, but I'm not sitting here thinking it's just going to happen."
He stands at a burly 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, and he posted two goals and four assists in 59 games with the Aeros in his third season in Houston. While toughness has never been an issue for the guy that has racked up 327 PIM as an Aero, but he's worked to improve his all around game.
"Skating has been huge," he said of his biggest improvement. "I've learned about offensive awareness, and defensive awareness. I couldn't pick out one thing, but I think it's been an all-around improvement as I try to become a more well-rounded player."
Nevertheless, these signings indicate Chuck Fletcher is methodically putting his team together, not just by trading and signing free agents, but by keeping important pieces of the future that are already in place.