When it comes to feel-good stories, Nate Prosser’s is about as good as it gets.
Many thought the 34-year-old journeyman defenseman’s professional hockey career was winding down when he ended up playing for the AHL Phantoms all of last season.
After spending the better part of a decade with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, Prosser’s presumed plight could have been viewed by many as a bit of a comedown.
Then came this season’s training camp when Prosser really stood out.
He played his rear end off, which caught the ever-watchful eye of Flyers coach Alain Vigneault. Prosser was rewarded by a spot on the team’s taxi squad.
Then, on Thursday night, came the real Walter Mitty moment.
Vigneault, not exactly thrilled with the play of Robert Hagg (and, to a lesser degree, rookie Mark Friedman), made changes to his lineup for the game at New Jersey.
He filled one of the vacancies with Prosser. And what does the Elk River, Minnesota native do? Scores on his first shot in a Flyer uniform early in the Flyers’ 3-1 win at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
This, mind you, from a guy who had scored all of 10 goals in his 354-game NHL career.
Shortly after the puck went into the Devils net, the Flyers were jumping up and down like a bunch of excited schoolkids. And why not? These scenes probably only come along once or twice in a lifetime.
Prosser sounds like he just wants to fit in and help out if he can. He’s on a two-way contract, so there’s no guarantee he won’t be back with the Phantoms when AHL operations officially resume next month.
But at least he has memories of that special goal to keep him energized.
“It was unreal,’’ he said after the game on a media Zoom call. “Words can’t really describe it. I never gave up hope (of playing in the NHL again). Last year I was down the whole year. . .the year ended in March.
“Not playing a game until tonight, it was kind of an eye-opening experience for me. I just wanted to get those first few shifts out of the way and get my legs under me. I was a little winded there at the start but I ended up finding it.’’
In some small way, Prosser reminds you a little bit of the just retired Matt Niskanen: Right-handed shot, good rink vision, can block a shot, high hockey IQ, doesn’t get caught out of position. That’s how you get to be a career plus-25.
“My game is keeping it simple and smart,’’ Prosser said. “I think I did a good job of that.’’
Vigneault trusted Prosser so much that he gave him four minutes of penalty kill time.
“Yeah, the ‘Processor’ played a solid game,’’ a smiling Claude Giroux said. “He’s a very smart hockey player, he’s always in good position. Obviously we were really pumped when he scored that goal. He’s a huge team guy. We couldn’t be happier for him.’’
Prosser is the kind of player who can be so valuable to a team, both to provide depth in case of injuries and hockey smarts when things get a little out of hand.
>Emotional series with Islanders
Don’t think for a minute the Flyers have forgotten the way they were dismissed from the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. That was done courtesy of the New York Islanders, who put a 4-0 hurting on the Philly crew in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
While regular-season games don’t measure up to that postseason event, the Flyers do get a chance at revenge when the Islanders visit for a two-game set this weekend.
The Islanders are off to a bit of a slow start, having just gotten swept in a gut-wrenching two-game set down in Washington, D.C. Playing without superstar Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals took the first game on a goal with 26 seconds to play, then rallied from a 3-0 deficit with six unanswered goals.
Of course, Islanders coach Barry Trotz – who a few years back led the Caps to a Stanley Cup – wasn’t too pleased with the outcome. So look for a rather pair of emotional games with the Flyers.
“We’re excited for these two games,’’ Giroux said. “It’s not a great feeling when someone knocks you out of the playoffs.
“For us, our game is maybe not where we want it to be right now but I think we’re going to keep working on it and get it where it’s supposed to be. It’s going to be a good test for us, that’s for sure.’’
With the Flyers in the midst of a four-games-in-six-days stretch, Vigneault gave his team a day off on Friday.
Prosser and Connor Bunnaman were returned to the taxi squad.