By Jim Diamond
Training camp started just days ago, but new Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette had the opportunity to meet and get to know several of his new players earlier this summer.
When he was officially announced as the second head coach in franchise history, Laviolette was in Europe with Team USA preparing for the start of the World Championships, where he was serving as the team’s head coach. Nashville forward Craig Smith and defenseman Seth Jones were members of the American team, and they found out just before the tournament started that Laviolette was going to be their new bench boss with the Predators.
“I remember one morning, I hadn’t seen it yet, but we got up and he pulled me aside and told me he was (Nashville’s coach),” Smith said. “We shook hands and we were pretty happy it happened before the tournament and we were able to go into it knowing we had some familiarities from the get-go. We used that time to get to know each other’s style as a player and as a coach.”
Laviolette is known as an offensive coach, so a talented forward like Smith should fit in well with his system. After returning from Europe, Laviolette was asked about Smith, and the early reviews were positive. “There’s nothing about his game that I don’t like,” Laviolette told the Predators-gold clad crowd at the Music City Center that day.Embed from Getty Images
Laviolette was an assistant coach with Team USA at the 2014 Olympics and after being dismissed as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers last October, he had a lot of time to scout prospective members of the American squad. Jones was one of the players on Team USA’s radar up until the team was named, so Laviolette had the opportunity to see him play several times as a scout.
Heading into his second NHL campaign, Jones was a little surprised when he found out that his coach at the World Championships would have the same role in Nashville.
“It was a little weird, but it was nice that I kind of got a preview of what he had to bring,” Jones said. “I really liked it over there and I can definitely see the similarities over here already.”
Following his return from Europe, one of Laviolette’s next moves as Nashville’s head coach was to take a trip to Las Vegas to meet his new captain. Shea Weber was one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy, so his new head coach took the opportunity to join Predators general manager David Poile on the trip to the NHL’s awards ceremony in support of his franchise defenseman. It was a gesture that was well received by Weber.
“I talked to him on the phone a little bit when he was back from the World Championships, but I didn’t expect to see him there,” Weber said. “Obviously that’s a super nice thing. It was good to see him and David there.”
Now that training camp has started, Laviolette will look to continue to build ties with his new players.
“In all honesty, it is a lot of new relationships and they were by the phone or they were quick meetings,” Laviolette said. “Now they will see more of me than they want to. You end up spending every day together at practices and games and in the hotels. Now you can really start to connect with players and I am really looking forward to that. (There are) some great guys here. I knew that coming in just from being on the outside, but now on the inside, you see the quality of people in the room. Those are great people to come to work with every day.”
According to one player, the impressions are positive.
“I like where he is going,” Smith said. “I like the direction he wants the team to go. I’m all aboard.”