NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Having strayed from their signature brand of gritty, hard-nosed hockey last season, the Nashville Predators knew they had to get a whole lot tougher this summer in order to return to the playoffs in 2013-14. While that toughness came at a somewhat hefty price, the additions of Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom — several well-established enforcers — have received praise throughout the organization.
And perhaps no one is happier to have those two in the fold than Rich Clune.
“We’re going to [expletive] run other teams out of our building,” Clune said on Saturday. “We’re going to be a pack of wild dogs.”
Clune, 26, was the Predators’ primary enforcer in 2012-13, and played that part successfully — earning a two-year extension in July for his services. He could only do so much on his own, though, and the lack of tenacity from his teammates made Nashville far too easy to play against. Of the plethora of problems that led to the Preds’ 16-23-9 record, their underwhelming physicality was among the most significant.
But that shouldn’t be an issue moving forward. And even though Clune plans to reprise the role he’s filled so well, he’s glad to have several other like-minded players by his side.
“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.”
Clune believes that he’s going to play on a line with Hendricks, whom he spoke very highly of on Saturday. Together, the two — alongside someone like Paul Gaustad — can provide Nashville with the kind of energetic, forceful trio the team didn’t have in 2012-13.
“There’s only a certain number of guys who compete like me, and we got another one in Hendricks,” said Clune. “We’re going to feed off each other’s energy, and we’re going to back each other up.”
As he looks to improve upon his first year in the Music City, Clune anticipates that playing with the likes of Hendricks and Nystrom will help him to elevate his game to a new level. Competition, especially among athletes as galvanized as these, breeds success.
“We’re going to push each other hard day in and day out,” Clune added. “We simply won’t allow each other to let up at any point.”
Nystrom Excited for New Opportunity
Eric Nystrom may be the definition of a blue-collar guy. He just oozes enthusiasm, and is going to be a fantastic locker room presence for the Preds. I wouldn’t be surprised if he quickly becomes an emotional leader around here.
After camp concluded on Saturday, the former Dallas Star echoed Clune’s sentiments, saying that he liked the idea of being referred to as a “wild pack.” He also stated that this team is going to win hockey games with toughness and cohesive play, as opposed to leaning on a handful of guys to get the job done.
“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,” he said. “We’re going to pride ourselves in that more than anything else.”
Nystrom doesn’t think this team has a “top-six” and a “bottom-six.” Rather, he believes Nashville is going to roll four lines that will all be capable of contributing at both ends of the rink. He 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.
“The kind of guys we have are really intense and into the game physically,” Nystrom said. “From that, sometimes you can make the game chippy and gain respect. That’s the kind of mentality they want here this year, and I’m ready to go through the wall for this team.”
Nystrom also spoke at length about the criticisms the Preds have received for not having that No. 1 scorer, and believes that a “blue-chipper” is far from a necessity when constructing a championship-caliber roster.
“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.”
Photo credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports, Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports