This year’s Nashville Predators have seen a tremendous influx of youth to the squad, and it’s been successful. With injuries to veterans in the lineup, the Predators have had to call up a multitude of players from the Milwaukee Admirals to fill in holes through the entire season. Many of those call ups have had the ability to stay on the current roster for an extended period of time. Now that the organization has had almost two full seasons for Peter Laviolette’s systems to be learned, it’s helping in the transition for young players getting called up to the NHL. Having good veteran leadership in the locker room also helps with the transition.
“A lot of guys come from Milwaukee and we play the same system and everything, so it allows us to feel comfortable coming up here,” said Viktor Arvidsson. Shea and [Neal] and Josi and all the veteran guys, they help with tips on the ice. The coaches show video and it’s great.”
Arvidsson has played in 46 games in the 2015-16 season and chipped in 15 points (7G-8A) during it. For the most part, he’s been playing on a line with Mike Fisher, who is certainly looked at as a leader in the locker room. Having veterans like Fisher, who recently played in his 1,000th NHL game, along with Shea Weber, James Neal and Pekka Rinne, help the rookies perform on the ice and get acclimated to life in the NHL.
“I think it’s huge when we have veteran guys like Fisher and [Weber] and Pekka; you can go up and down the lineup,” said Colton Sissons, who was called up again on March 7th. “Everyone has different leadership traits, but they definitely guide the younger guys, and young guys like Filip are great leaders too with the way he prepares and plays every single night. It’s a good mix when everybody’s buying in and you trust each other.”
While every team is built differently, the Predators playing with a healthy mix of good, young talent along with veteran leadership has proven to be successful as the season wears on. Most nights lately have seen five rookies on the ice in a selection from Viktor Arvidsson, Anthony Bitetto, Petter Granberg, Miikka Salomaki, Colton Sissons and Austin Watson. If anything, it proves that Nashville has depth, and there’s no better time to have depth than when entering the playoffs.
“I don’t know if you can paint it with one stroke,” said head coach Peter Laviolette on if the combination works for every team. “Every team is different. Some are younger than others, some have more veteran presence and more veteran line ups. Our rookies have done a really good job. We just have to keep playing the way we’ve been playing. Our rookies have been really good at contributing to help us be successful; veteran players have been great. But I don’t know if it’s a one-stroke thing. I think every team is built differently.”
It’s been seen a lot with many teams this season and in the past. Young players are having a tremendous impact on teams and are giving their fanbases hope. Just look at Max Domi and Anthony Duclair in Arizona or Jack Eichel in Buffalo and how they’ve helped put some excitement into fanbases. Then there’s Dylan Larkin of the Red Wings and Artemi Panarin of the Blackhawks that continue to show how good teams continue to fill their cabinet. The Predators aren’t any different in this matter as they have Filip Forsberg finishing with a strong sophomore year and young, rookie talent proving they belong in the big league. James Neal thinks that this is the direction the league is going.
“I just think that’s where the league is right now, a lot of young, great players coming up,” said Neal. “I think you need a mix of both if you want to go far in the playoffs and you want to win. When you have that young fire and that skill, you have to use it wisely. With the likes of Shea, [Pekka], Fisher and myself, Josi is getting older now, it’s just trying to give them as much encouragement and guidance as you can. Lead by example, play hard every day, practice every day. Young guys will follow. I’ve been in their footsteps before. You look up to the older guys and look for guidance. It’s up to us to help them and lead them.”
Nashville is finishing this season in a complete turnaround from last season. It’s obvious that the entire team has bought in to how their supposed to play, what’s expected of them and the role that each player has.
“You have to buy in to everything if you want to win,” said Neal. “Whether it’s systems or your role, it’s combination of things. Everyone is doing a good job of that right now.”
The buy-in has trickled throughout the organization and can be seen in Milwaukee as well.
“I’ve said it time and time again that they do a great job in Milwaukee prepping us to be just good pros in general and get us ready for the NHL game,” said Colton Sissons. “Dean and Stan are great coaches and have really guided me to have success when I do get my chance up here.”
Goaltenders see everything from a different perspective, and as part of the veteran leadership on the team, Pekka Rinne can just see how this team has continued to gel over the season. As seen at practice on Sunday, the team is in good spirits and having fun on the ice, a sign of confidence as the team inches closer to the playoffs.
“It’s a good combination,” said Rinne. “The core of the group has been together for years now, and the younger guys are playing in big roles. It’s a good mix of veteran guys and young guys. Everyone gets along and we have a good locker room and a good atmosphere. I think that’s the key part of any team’s success, when you have a close knit team.”
As it’s been said many times, all a team has to do is make the playoffs and then anything can happen. A team playing good, confident hockey and getting hot at just the right time, as history has proven, will be the dangerous ones come April. The Predators could just be that team.
Photo credit: Christina McCullough