Nate Prosser is a product of Elk River Hockey Association
If you’re a youth or teenage hockey player in love with the sport and desperately want to play collegiately or even further but find yourself not excelling or impressing the right coaches, the Wild’s Nate Prosser should be your role model.
Besides being one exceptional human being and proud of father of three girls, Prosser is the quintessential late bloomer and proof positive that there’s a gazillion different paths to reach your dream of playing in the National Hockey League.
At Elk River High School, he never made the Select 15s, Select 16s or Select 17s. He wasn’t recruited by any colleges until he was 18. And he was undrafted by all 30 NHL teams … twice.
Yet, this season for the Wild, Prosser, a third-set defenseman who most of his career has acted as an extra, in-and-out-of-the-lineup defenseman, topped 300 games and nine seasons in the NHL.
“It’s been a fun journey,” Prosser, 31, with his trademark smile, said. “I never made any of the kind of teams that guys that would get drafted in the first, second, third rounds. Yet my whole goal growing up was to play in the WCHA, get a college scholarship. I ended up achieving that, and while I was at Colorado College I just kept developing my game, just getting better every year. Getting stronger, getting bigger, just being more of a man, I guess.”
“A little runt”
Ask any of Prosser’s buddies, childhood teammates, heck even his dad, Chris, and brother, Luke, if they ever thought Prosser would be the one who wound making it in hockey; Nobody would believe he would be the one to fulfill that dream.
As a freshman at Elk River, Prosser was 5-foot-2.
He was a self-described shrimp, “a little runt,” yet by his sophomore year he grew 10 inches and would ultimately graduate at 6-2.
“I was a late bloomer,” Prosser said.
As the younger brother, Prosser looked up to his hockey-playing brother, who was three years older. Whatever Luke was doing, Nate just tagged along.
Before he was even 3, father, Chris, would put skates on Nate and he’d just push a chair around the ice trying to keep up with his brother.
Prosser, his entire childhood, didn’t have a lot of friends who played hockey, so he’d play with Luke and his friends. They’d throw him on defense and in goal and he’d have to hack and whack to survive.
“I think it helped me with my development throughout the years,” Prosser said. “I was always playing against his friends. My brother didn’t really like it. He kind of got annoyed with me. I was the annoying little brother, but I owe a lot to my brother just from the fact he tolerated me for that long and just let me be there with him.”
Prosser would play a couple seasons in the USHL before ultimately committing to Colorado College, where he began as a 20-year-old freshman and played four years.
He developed into a responsible, team-first guy and after being named to the all-WCHA Second Team his senior year, Prosser signed a free-agent contract with his hometown Wild.
He arrived in Nashville to join the team and wasn’t supposed to play the final few weeks. He was only supposed to practice, but with Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz injured, Prosser made his NHL debut April 5, 2010, in Edmonton. He assisted on an Andrew Brunette goal and played the final three games of that season.
“That was a big step for me,” he said.
Locker room guy
There have been several times over the years that Prosser thought his NHL career could be close to ending.
He twice signed free-agent contracts with the St. Louis Blues after the Wild chose not to re-sign him. Both times, once in training camp, once after Thanksgiving this season, the Wild reclaimed him off the waiver wire after not fitting into the Blues’ lineup.
One reason the Wild like him is the fact that Prosser adds to depth to the blue line and is one of the most popular teammates in Wild history. He’s a good-in-the-room guy, as they say.
He’s a good penalty killer, is willing to take a hit, and stands up for his teammates.
“I used to teach Nate that he’d have to flick that switch on the back of the helmet when he got on the ice and when he’d get off the ice, the game’s over, you’ve got to un-flick it,” Chris Prosser said. “You have to get to the lobby of the rink you’re in and flash your pearly whites and hug your mom and call your grandma and do your homework and go to church and be a good citizen. I told Nate if he couldn’t differentiate between that when he played and when he was off the ice, I’d take his equipment to Play it Again Sports and that would be it.”
This season, for the first time in his career, Prosser has returned to Minnesota and become a regular defenseman. He has played every night.
It’s a cool transformation from that kid in 2010 that looked like a deer in headlights after he joined the Wild fresh off the college ice to the guy who’s nine years in the NHL and now the mentor to the Wild’s young defensemen.
When Gustav Olofsson, Mike Reilly or Nick Seeler play, they’re paired with the guy belovedly called “Pross.”
“It’s crazy. It’s very crazy,” Prosser said. “I’m a man of faith, and God’s had his hand all over my career. Whether it’s been doors closing and doors opening, St. Louis and back, St. Louis and back, it’s a God thing. I’m just happy to be in this position I am now and try to be a positive light to my teammates. Whether it’s a young defenseman playing alongside me or an older guy and leader in our locker room, I just want to be a positive, upbeat, approachable guy who can be talked to about anything.”
After 12 seasons covering the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune, Michael Russo now covers the Wild and National Hockey League for The Athletic (theathletic.com/mn). He co-hosts the Russo-Souhan Show on mnspn.com, can be heard on KFAN (100.3-FM) and seen throughout the hockey season on Fox Sports North. Follow Russo on Twitter at @RussoHockey and subscribe to The Athletic at a special discounted rate at theathletic.com/michaelrussohockey.