15/04/2024

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Nick Seeler’s journey from out of hockey to Flyers shot-blocking ace

Nick Seeler’s journey from out of hockey to Flyers shot-blocking ace

On the NHL’s biggest stage, Nick Seeler broke through — offensively.

A stalwart on the blue line, Seeler notched his first goal of the season during the Flyers’ 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils at the Stadium Series on Saturday at MetLife Stadium.

It was his first in 69 games dating to last March and was on his 69th shot of the 2023-24 season. After notching his eighth goal in 281 career games and his 10th point of the season, the team-first guy hinted he’d probably swap his drought-breaker for a win.

“Obviously, not the outcome we wanted, but it’s certainly nice to be able to contribute in the offensive part of the game,” Seeler said. “I’d say I focus more on the defensive end and blocking shots and playing tough in the D zone, but being able to chip in on the offense is always important, and it was certainly fun to get one in the outdoor game.”

» READ MORE: The Stadium Series was the biggest NHL stage yet for several Flyers. Even bigger ones await.

And if you couldn’t tell from the grin and the way he barreled into the celebration, there was no one more thrilled to see him go bar-down than his defensive partner, Sean Walker.

“The way he battles for us every night, puts his body on the line, leading the league in blocked shots. Just a warrior for us every single night. So to see him go out there and get rewarded with a nice goal, in a pretty amazing atmosphere, it was nice and I was really happy for him,” Walker said.

As mentioned by Walker, Seeler is one of the top puck-eaters in the NHL. Entering play on Monday, he leads the league in shots blocked with 164. Seeler said there is a technique to blocking shots, like knowing the lanes and wanting to get in front of the puck, with the hope it hits you in a good spot.

But, he’ll acknowledge with a smile, “I feel like a lot of the time it doesn’t” and said it tends to sting for a few minutes before the pain subsides.

The work Seeler has done this year has impressed his teammates. Captain Sean Couturier said: “He’s got that Flyer identity in him.” Morgan Frost noted he’s a big reason the Flyers are in a playoff spot and that “he’ll give every limb for the team.”

He’s even impressed his bench boss. John Tortorella said, “He’s a nut job. He’s as intense a player as I’ve seen and I just love him.”

Tortorella said Seeler “is one of our better players blue line in” — and the analytics back it up. According to Natural Stat Trick, he and Walker are the eighth-best pairing in the NHL in expected goals for percentage (56.34%) and high-danger chances for percentage (56.77%), and No. 2 in shots for percentage (58.51%) at five-on-five, among pairings with a minimum of 400 minutes together.

They’re also solid in their own end with a Corsi For percentage of 53.04%, as one of only two pairings that have played more than 500 minutes together for the Flyers this season.

Now a key component to the Flyers’ defense and success, three years and a month ago, Seeler, 30, wasn’t sure he’d ever play professional hockey again. Then a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, Seeler needed a break and the team agreed to mutually terminate his contract in January 2021.

The Minnesotan went home and shadowed his father, Dan, at his paint distribution and manufacturing company, Midwest Industrial Coatings, in Shakopee. Seeler needed the time to get his mind off of things, and while learning the family business, he got to spend a lot of time with his dad.

Away from the game, he was still working out, but for the first few months, he wasn’t skating or playing hockey at all. Then he started to get “that fire and that passion back for the game.”

When the desire to return came back, he skated at the University of Minnesota’s famed rink, Mariucci, on his own for 30 to 40 minutes to regain a feel for the puck and get back to his “roots.” Seeler had played one season at Minnesota after transferring there from Nebraska-Omaha and graduated with a business marketing degree.

With the fire burning, his agent started calling around. Chuck Fletcher answered.

“When Chuck was here, he gave me an opportunity and signed me to a one-year deal, and I was just excited to be back playing hockey, honestly,” Seeler said. “So I came here with expectations to just have fun and be myself and see what happens. And I ended up sticking that whole year, I was here the whole year that first year back. So, yeah, certainly grateful for that opportunity coming back and having it be here in Philly where I feel at home.”

Fletcher, then the Flyers general manager, knew Seeler from their days with the Minnesota Wild and signed him to a two-way deal. Seeler signed a two-year extension with an annual average value of $775,000 in May 2022 and, yep, that one was a two-way deal, too.

It says a lot that he has not played in the AHL since the 2019-20 season. Seeler will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and should see a hefty pay raise.

» READ MORE: Sam Ersson’s unflappable mindset to be tested as he takes over for Carter Hart in net

“I have just so much respect for how he’s gone about it,” Tortorella said. “He leaves the league and comes back and that’s will. And to come back into the top league and still find your way, that’s a mental toughness, a mental will, and that’s what he’s about.”

“When I first came here, no one mentioned a word to me about Nick. I didn’t know who the [heck] he was. No one had him on that depth chart,” Tortorella said. “He was gonna be a guy where we said he’ll fight and he’s a hard-nosed guy. He wasn’t penciled in by any means, and I think, it’s been our best pair” with Walker.

Breakaways

Tyson Foerster returned to practice Monday in a non-contact jersey and participated in the first half of the session. The forward has missed three games with a lower-body injury. Tortorella said Foerster “will play when he’s ready to play” and listed him as day-to-day. … Rasmus Ristolainen, who has missed three games with an upper-body injury, did not practice. As of Feb. 14, the team did not have a timetable for his return. … The Flyers next play Wednesday at Chicago (7:30 p.m., TNT).