NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As local fans are well-aware of at this point, the Predators are often deemed an organization that many players simply don’t consider an attractive option. Sure, guys love living in Nashville, but when free agents weigh the pros and cons of playing for the small-market Preds and one of their big-market adversaries, the wonders of the Music City tend to pale in comparison to being in the spotlight and consistently challenging for the Cup.
Said Dave Lozo back on July 8: “David Poile is in a tough spot, and that spot is Nashville, Tennessee. In the history of the organization, how many UFAs that weren’t Predators at the time has he been able to entice into coming to [Nashville]? Whether it’s the location, the market or whatever, big-time UFAs don’t go to Nashville.”
This is, for the most part, accurate.
But Eric Nystrom, while not a “big-time UFA,” clearly didn’t get the memo.
Nystrom, who inked a four-year deal with Nashville this summer after two season in Dallas, is about as enthusiastic to join his new team as one can be. Nashville may not have the kind of expectations in 2013-14 of Chicago, Boston or other top-tier contenders, but you wouldn’t know it when chatting with the Long Island native.
“I’m so, so, so excited,” he said earlier in training camp. “I’m so excited for what’s in the future here and helping this team and just getting the season going and having a blast here.
“I’m just ready to go through the wall for this team, and I know there are a lot of guys who are going to be doing the same.”
As we’ve discussed a few times in this space, the additions of Nystrom and Matt Hendricks give Nashville some much-needed toughness — something that was severely lacking last year. And it may only be preseason, but this added fortitude has already had a major impact.
“The type of guys we have are really intense, really physical, and I love that,” he said. “Some times you can make a game chippy, and you get respect like that playing that type of game, and that’s the type of mentality they want around here this year.
With Nystrom and Hendricks in the fold, expect Nashville to get in a lot more fights than we saw 2012-13. While engaging in fisticuffs isn’t a top priority for the Preds, it’s something that comes with the nature of their game.
“It’s not about going out there looking for fights, but the way we play, those things kind of invite themselves,” Nystrom said. “There’s going to be times and places where this team needs a spark, and dropping the gloves can make that happen.”
Through six preseason contests the Preds have already been charged with 10 fighting majors — the trio of Clune (4), Nystrom (2) and Hendricks (2) accounting for all but two of those battles.
That’s the kind of ratio we can expect to see during the regular season. No longer will Clune have to carry the enforcer role on his shoulders alone, and having like-minded players by his side is a welcoming sight for the 26-year-old.
“We’re going to be a lot harder to play against next year,” he said. “Now we have strength in numbers, and we’re going to come at you in waves. We’re going to control pucks down low, and we’re going to have our opponents wanting to make early changes ’cause they aren’t going to want to play against us. We’re going to run the D right through the [expletive] end-wall.”
“I’ve been on teams in the past that haven’t had enough guys who can stand up to opponents, and maybe that was the case here last year, but we now have the right mix of guys who can play that tough team game,” said Nystrom. “We’re going to pride ourselves in that more than anything else.”
As far as luring in that “big-time UFA,” Nystrom doesn’t think that’s necessary when constructing a winning roster. He doesn’t believe this team has a top-six and a bottom-six; rather, he predicts Nashville is going to roll four lines that will all be capable of contributing at both ends of the rink. Nystrom knows that on some nights he’ll be counted on to fill a top line slot — which he did in Dallas, having skated with Jamie Benn and Jaromir Jagr on occasion — and on others be tasked with a more defensive-minded part.
Blurring the distinction between what constitutes a scoring line and a checking line is conducive to creating a balanced depth chart, and is something we’ve seen from the Preds in years past.
“How many top goal-scorers are there actually out there? Not many at all — it’s harder to acquire them than most people think” he said. “Sometimes you put a bunch of skill guys together and it doesn’t work. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can remember, on my team and on others.
“Here’s how you win: you get every guy playing the same system, on the same page — and this is a team that’s made for that.”