ST. PAUL - Nick Seeler can trace a lifetime of his best hockey memories to Xcel Energy Center.
He watched countless Wild home games there as a kid. He won two Class 2A high school state championships in the building with Eden Prairie. And on Sunday, April 15, he suited up for the Wild in a playoff game with his family watching in the stands.
"It was pretty incredible coming out when they introduced the Minnesota Wild and the flags are going," said Seeler, a 24-year-old rookie defenseman with his home-state team. "You kind of get chills. You've got to pinch yourself."
Seeler has been pinching himself often the past couple of months. Called up to the NHL for the first time in mid-February after playing more than 100 games in the American Hockey League, he impressed early on. But he kept thinking it was only a matter of time before he was sent back down.
"When I came up I never really expected to be here (in the playoffs)," Seeler admitted. "Sometimes I need to take a step back. ... (I'm) in the Stanley Cup playoffs, so it's exciting. I'm just trying to stay in the moment."
That hasn't been a problem for the former Gopher, who is coming off one of his best performances of his NHL career in Sunday's Game 3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. He had two assists, four blocked shots and countless gritty plays in front of the net in the 6-2 win.
"He's surprised me since he's been here," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "This guy has never played in the NHL before. He's had very average training camps here. ... He's come up here and hasn't played like a guy who hasn't played in the NHL before. He's surprised me, for sure - in a real good way."
You know who isn't surprised by his success? His former teammates with the Iowa Wild.
"Not at all," said Kyle Rau, another former Gopher from Eden Prairie who has been Seeler's buddy since childhood. "Everyone in the locker room (in Des Moines) was saying, 'When he gets the chance, he's not coming back.' Then he got the opportunity, and he really seized it. He's a great player. We all knew he had it in him."
That wasn't always the case for Seeler, the Wild's fifth-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
After the draft, Seeler started his college career at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, playing two years there before leaving, simply saying he needed a change of scenery.
Seeler credited a chance encounter between his agent and former University of Minnesota assistant coach Grant Potulny with helping him latch on with the Gophers. He played one season with the Gophers before signing with the Wild.
It was a steady climb after that for Seeler, who was dubbed the most improved player in the organization before finally being called up to the big leagues in the middle of this season.
Since then, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has been one of the most consistent players on the blue line.So much so that it make you wonder where the Wild would be without him.
"He's brought a lot of physicality, which we didn't have before," Boudreau said. "We were good skating (blue line) and moved the puck well. (Seeler) brings a physical aspect to the game that really helps the other guys."
Seeler has taken on even more responsibility with Ryan Suter out for the season, and while he doesn't bring the offensive firepower as someone like Matt Dumba, he has been elevated to to the second defensive pairing alongside Jared Spurgeon, using his big body to make the simple plays in both zones.
"Just trying to learn as much as I can after each game and try to learn from the other guys who have been through it," Seeler said. "Playing with (Jared Spurgeon) and (Nate Prosser) has been great. They have given me a lot of confidence. Just staying simple and staying within myself has helped me a lot."
As surprising as Seeler's rise through the ranks has been for nearly everyone, there are still some people that claim they never had a doubt.
"We had the same friend group growing up and everyone knew one day (he could make it to the NHL)," Rau said. "Sometimes all a guy needs is an opportunity. That's what he got."