Author: Jim Diamond

Predicting the Central Division’s All-Star Team

By Jim Diamond

When the NHL and NHLPA announced the new format for the upcoming All-Star game to be held in Nashville in late January, it was announced that the rosters for the teams that represent each division would be made up of six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies for the 3-on-3 division vs. division tournament.

Another big wrinkle for the roster is that each team has to be represented at least once. For the Western Conference, that means the 11 roster spots are to be spread among the seven teams in each division. It is a little tougher in the Eastern Conference, where each division has eight teams.

The NHL will host a fan vote, which will select one player from each division to be named to the All-Star Game. The player who wins the fan vote in each division will be named that team’s captain. A conspiracy theorist might suggest that there is a great chance that Shea Weber may be the Central’s leading vote-getter.

Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Using the league’s rules, here is my guess at the Central Division’s lineup. With the division being as strong as it is, picking 11 players is a difficult task. Many things can change between now and January.

Forwards:

  1. Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado)
  2. Patrick Kane (Chicago)
  3. Tyler Seguin (Dallas)
  4. Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis)
  5. Jamie Benn (Dallas)
  6. Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg)

Current omissions: James Neal (Nashville), Jonathan Toews (Chicago), Miikko Koivu (Minnesota), Artemi Panarin (Chicago)

They are all good, even the ones currently listed on the outside looking in.

Defensemen:

  1. Shea Weber (Nashville)
  2. Ryan Suter (Minnesota)
  3. Roman Josi (Nashville)

Current omissions: John Klingberg (Dallas), Colton Parayko (St. Louis), Tyson Barrie (Colorado), Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis)

Let’s call those listed as on the team as the David Poile/Paul Fenton blue line. Klingberg really deserves a place on the team, but when you only have three spots, tough calls are made. There is no chance of Weber not being there, and with the game in Nashville, Josi will get the benefit of any doubt, but he deserves to be there too.

Goaltenders:

  1. Pekka Rinne (Nashville)
  2. Jake Allen (St. Louis)

Current omission: Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota)

Rinne is a virtual lock. Right now, it is basically a coin flip between Allen and Dubnyk for the other spot.

Again, a lot can happen before the rosters are announced. Who do you have?

One to remember, Viktor Arvidsson scores his first NHL goal

By Jim Diamond

By the time he has grandchildren and sits down to tell them how he scored his first NHL goal, it may evolve into being a one-timer from the top of the slot, but Thursday night, Viktor Arvidsson’s goal was an absolute beauty no matter how it went into the net.

With just under three minutes remaining in the first period, Seth Jones sent a wrist shot from above the right circle toward Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward. Arvidsson, standing in front of Ward along side linemate and fellow Swede Calle Jarnkrok, attempted to jump out of the way of the puck, which appeared to be headed by Ward on the glove side.

Just as Arvidsson jumped, Jarnkrok stuck the blade of his stick near the puck, tipping it ever so slightly off of its upward trajectory. After catching Jarnkrok’s blade, the puck hit the lower front part of Arvidsson’s jersey and leg and then by Ward. Playing his seventh NHL contest, the goal was Arvidsson’s first.

“They all count, so I take whatever I get,” Arvidsson said.

Arvidsson played his first season in North America in 2014-15, and it was not too tough of an adjustment to the skinnier rinks on this side of the Atlantic. In 70 games played with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL last season, Arvidsson had 22 goals and 33 assists. His seven power-play goals were tops on the Admirals.

With an impressive training camp and preseason performance this year, Arvidsson earned a spot on the opening night roster.

“This is a kid that works really hard,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “He worked hard last year, came over and learned the game and in his first opportunity tonight, he was able to score a big goal for us.”

But what about the puck?

It is hockey tradition for a teammate to retrieve a player’s first NHL goal puck, but at first, no one knew that it was Arvidsson’s goal. Like goaltenders usually do, Ward swept the puck out of the back of the net and it traveled toward the neutral zone as the five Predators on the ice celebrated the goal. Both the in arena and TV cameras focused on Jones, who had the initial shot on the play.

“I thought it was mine at first,” Jones said. “I didn’t really celly though because I kind of saw the whole bunch in there. I saw him come into the corner and go on one knee, so I kind of thought he thought it touched him.”

Arvidsson knew it was his.

“It hit my leg, so I knew straight away when it went in that I scored,” Arvidsson said. “It was a good shot and Jarny tipped it on my leg; a little bit lucky, but it’s a goal.”

Soon everyone else realized that the goal was Arvidsson’s. As he sat down on the bench, the 22-year-old allowed a little emotion to show when he gave a triple fist pump and a quick punch to the boards in front of him, all while wearing an ear-to-ear smile, because, that’s what you do when you score your first NHL goal. Linemate Cody Hodgson, sitting immediately to Arvidsson’s left, gave him a congratulatory pat on the head.

Friend o’ Rinkside and Goddess of the GIFs Stephanie caught the on-bench moment.

The puck was retrieved and was waiting for Arvidsson in the locker room following the game for the traditional first goal picture taken by team photographer John Russell.

At the time it was scored, Arvidsson’s goal made the game 2-0. Carolina’s Eric Staal scored at 18:20 of the third, and the game ended 2-1, which means that Arvidsson not only got credit for his first NHL goal, but also his first game-winning goal as well.

And that’s worthy of another fist pump.

Austin Watson making his case for a spot on the opening night roster

By Jim Diamond

In an otherwise gloomy performance in the Predators final home preseason game Tuesday night against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, one bright spot for Nashville was an early shorthanded goal by Austin Watson.

The unassisted backhand marker from in close gave the Predators a 1-0 lead at 9:03 of the first, and it was pretty much downhill from there in a 5-2 defeat.

First round draft picks bring high expectations; from the fans, the teams who drafted them, and most importantly, the players themselves. Watson was Nashville’s first pick (18th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Entering his fourth professional season, Watson has not played an NHL game since making six appearances late in the 2012-13 season, a season in which the injury bug ran rampant through the Nashville system where it seemed another forward went down each game played.

Watson scored his lone NHL goal April 23, 2013 against the Calgary Flames.

Now 23, Watson is looking to stick with the Predators coming out of this season’s training camp. Tuesday was Nashville’s penultimate preseason game, with only Saturday’s game in Columbus on the slate in advance of next Thursday night’s regular season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes.

With 28 players still on the roster, five will have to go before the Predators set their opening night roster, which can be a maximum of 23. There’s less than a week remaining before the NHL-mandated October 6 at 3:00 p.m. CT deadline to establish that opening night roster, and Watson is focused on continuing to do what has kept him in camp this far.

“It’s just keeping with the process,” Watson said after Tuesday night’s game. “You’ve just got to come out here and compete and work hard every day. You’re trying to earn a job and that’s the mindset every time you come to the rink.”

He’s been here before and knows that the team’s coaching and management staffs see everything he does on the ice both in games and in practice.

“You know what’s going on,” Watson said. “They’ve got to get down to 23 guys and it’s going to happen here before the season. You’ve just got to keep doing what you’re doing, try not to read too much into it and just be the best you can be out there. Hopefully it works itself out.”

The two-year deal Watson signed this offseason is a two-way contract for this season and a one-way deal for 2016-17. That means that if Watson is sent to the minors this season, he will be paid the $100,000 portion of that contract. He will make $575,000 at the NHL level should he stick.

Having a player on a two-way contract makes it easier for a team to send him to the minors, especially if it comes down to a decision between him and someone on a one-way contract, who makes the same salary in the NHL or the minors.

Watson has at most a week left to try and prove to the Predators that he belongs on the NHL roster that they will submit to the league next Tuesday.

Shea Weber impresses in return to game action

By Jim Diamond

Last week, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said that team captain Shea Weber “looked great” after the first two on-ice sessions of training camp, but they would proceed slowly with working him into the lineup for the preseason games. Wednesday marked Nashville’s fourth exhibition contest and also marked the first for Weber.

It was Weber’s first game action since sustaining a knee injury in Game 2 of the Predators’ Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks on a hit by then Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad. The injury required surgery to correct. The Weber-less Predators fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in six games.

Wednesday night, Weber got back to doing Weber-like things pretty quickly. At 8:40 of the opening period and with Nashville on the power play, Weber let fly a half slap shot from the high slot that beat Tampa Bay goaltender Adam Wilcox high to the far side. No, it wasn’t one of his familiar one-time bombs from the point, but those will come with time.

During a second period Nashville power play, Weber saw some extended time and did get a chance to air out his one-timer. In the span of 25 seconds, Weber was credited with one shot on goal and another two that missed the target, one of which caused James Neal to duck out of the way. During 5-on-5 play, Weber played a lot with Anthony Bitetto as his defensive partner, but on the power play, he saw some time with his more familiar partner Roman Josi.

After the game, Weber said that more time is needed to work on getting his timing back on his one-timers.

“Jos and I talked about it in between periods,” he said. “Practices have been pretty long where we haven’t had time to stay out there afterwards and work on that kind of stuff, so that will come.”

Weber and Josi finished fourth and fifth respectively in the voting for the Norris Trophy last season. While Weber has finished a close second for the award on multiple occasions, Josi has emerged as another elite blueliner to come through Nashville’s pipeline.

“For the whole team, it’s about getting that chemistry back and getting used to the players next to you again,” Josi said. “That’s what preseason is here for, to get back in game shape.”

Laviolette didn’t tax Weber too much in the game, playing him 19:23, with none coming on the penalty kill.

“He looked great,” Laviolette said. “We kept him off the penalty kill. We got him 5-on-5 time and power play time. We will increase that from here and work him in a little bit more, but I thought for his first game back since last spring, I thought he looked really good.”

Weber recorded three shots on goal in the game along with four that missed the target and another four that were blocked.

After four games played in the span of just four days, the Predators do not play another preseason game until next Tuesday, when former Central Division foe the Columbus Blue Jackets pay a visit to Bridgestone Arena.

Vladislav Kamenev impresses in preseason debut

By Jim Diamond

Seeing his first NHL preseason action, Nashville Predators prospect Vladislav Kamenev did not disappoint in the front end of Nashville’s doubleheader of exhibition tilts held Sunday at Bridgestone Arena.

At just 19-years-old, Kamenev is expected to play his first season in North America in 2015-16. If Sunday’s very small sample size is any indication, the 6’2” Russian looks like he will make the transition to the smaller rinks just fine.

Kamenev had a strong showing, scoring once in generating three shots on goal along with two others that missed the target. On his goal, Kamenev was the beneficiary of a strong individual effort by defenseman Ryan Ellis.

Ellis, sporting a summer’s worth of growth in what can be best characterized as a Yukon Cornelius-esque beard, drove down the right side and curled a pass to the left, where Kamenev was there to sneak a quick shot between Panthers goaltender Mike McKenna and the near post.

Ryan Ellis (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Ryan Ellis’ beard. It’s simply magic. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

“That’s usually where a guy is going to be,” Ellis said. “When you chip it by, he’s never going to be right on the back side. I just kind of threw it to an area and figured someone would be there and luckily it got right to him.”

Ellis said he got to know Kamenev a little prior to the start of training camp.

“I was a couple weeks early and so was he,” Ellis said. “He had a banged up shoulder, but he showed flashes of brilliance out there. He’s kind of your prototypical Russian; great hands, great vision, and skates well for a bigger guy. I thought he did great. It was a good shot off of the wing there. Overall though, I thought he was making plays as well. It’s good to see from a young kid.”

In 15:50 of ice time Sunday, Kamenev led all Predators skaters in shorthanded time on ice with 4:21.

Following Sunday night’s second game, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette liked what he saw from Kamenev and fellow Russian Yakov Trenin, who played in Game 2.

“I thought he did a good job,” Laviolette said. “Both he and Trenin, coming in for really playing their first set of games, I thought they both played well. Big centermen that can move, they seem to be pretty smart two-way players. Both had some nice 1-on-1 moves out there.”

With very few roster spots up for grabs in training camp, Kamenev is likely slated to start the season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.

Kamenev played for Magnitogorsk Metallurg of the KHL last season, posting six goals and adding three assists in 41 games played.

Poile’s gamble on Franson just didn’t pay off

By Jim Diamond

At a Tuesday morning press conference wrapping the team’s recently completed 2014-15 season, Predators general manager David Poile was asked about the Feb. 15 trade that brought defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli to Nashville from Toronto, in exchange for Nashville’s first round pick in June’s Entry Draft and Brendan Leipsic, a prospect with a penchant for drinking out of his opponent’s goaltender’s water bottle, which is awesome.

Sitting next to head coach Peter Laviolette Tuesday, Poile addressed the trade. Neither player gained much traction with the Predators and both were largely ineffective in what was the second stint for both players in the organization.

“I think we had very thorough discussions with our staff as to what we needed and our goal was to add one more forward and one more defenseman,” Poile said Tuesday. “There wasn’t a huge crop of defensemen. We’ve also talked about some of our past dealings at the trading deadline in terms of fits and specifically chemistry. Arguably in the past, I think I basically said this publicly, that I think we did some things that maybe weren’t a perfect fit if you will.”

At the time of the trade, the Predators were 38-12-6 and looked like they had a shot at winning the Presidents’ Trophy. Poile has shown a penchant for making trades prior to the deadline, as was the case with Franson and Santorelli.

The trade for Franson and Santorelli almost seemed doomed from the start. The President’s Day holiday and a freak ice storm that grounded the city of Nashville pretty much to a halt combined to prevent the players’ immigration paperwork being completed for six days, keeping them off the ice for almost a week following the deal.

In speaking about Franson specifically, Poile brought up the fact that he was a right-handed shot, something the Predators were particularly deep in with the likes of Shea Weber, Seth Jones, and Ryan Ellis already in the fold. In fairness, Ellis was still on the shelf at the time with a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup from early January until early March.

Very effective on the power play in Toronto, Franson couldn’t get much of a look with the man advantage in Nashville. Weber and Roman Josi made up the team’s top pairing, while Jones and Ellis ran the points on the second unit. In several games, Franson was stapled to the bench for long stretches of time due to ineffective play.

“I think, to be very honest, the fact that Franson was a right-handed shot, and we probably had the lefty/righty thing all year was working really good for us,” Poile said Tuesday. “The righty/righty thing was, I’m not making an excuse, but it wasn’t the perfect situation for Franson or for us.”

It was a curious statement indeed, as Poile was asked specifically about having four right-handed defensemen in the lineup with Franson’s addition.

“Four right-handed D, and we’re really happy with that,” Poile said at the time of the trade. “We’ve liked the lefty/righty thing. There’s no question that we spent a lot of time talking to our coaches about that before we made the trade. Again it’s up to Peter to solve that.”

The righty/lefty thing was the reason Poile gave for making the January 2014 trade that sent right-handed shooting Kevin Klein and his fairly magnificent contract to the New York Rangers for Michael Del Zotto, a left shot. That trade proved to be an unmitigated disaster for Nashville as Del Zotto played his way out of Barry Trotz’s lineup while Klein helped the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals.

With six blueliners (Weber, Josi, Ellis, Jones, Mattias Ekholm, and Victor Bartley) under contract for next season, the Predators have three right-handed and three left-handed shots coming back.

Franson looked decent in the opportunities he had in the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks, but there’s virtually no chance that he returns to play for Nashville next season.

Trick-Fil-A: Forsberg’s three goals keep Predators alive

By Jim Diamond

Late in the second period and with the puck near the Chicago blue line, Mike Ribeiro stepped up and planted a body check on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.

Goddess of the GIFs and friend o’ Rinkside Steph has all of the action here:

 

More known for his passing ability than his prowess for delivering open-ice hits, Ribeiro made a play that was uncommon for him in a night of firsts for the Predators. After missing considerable time down the stretch of the season with a broken collarbone, Kane had largely gone untouched for most of the series. The score was tied 1-1 at the time, and the middle frame would end that way, but in the third, the Predators came out flying.

“Everyone is doing everything in this playoff series,” Filip Forsberg said. “It feels like Ribby is hitting, guys are blocking shots like never before, so it’s awesome. That’s the type of effort you need to beat the Chicago Blackhawks and I’m really happy that everyone put this in the basket today. There’s a new game coming up in two days, and that’s the next focus here.”

Oh, and about Forsberg – just a couple of hours after the NHL announced that he was not among the top three vote getters in the Calder Trophy race for the league’s top rookie, Forsberg went out and registered the franchise’s first-ever playoff hat trick.

In a frenetic first period that featured a nearly 10-minute stretch that went without a whistle, Forsberg potted his first just 1:15 after Brad Richards opened the scoring.

The Swede struck again at 3:14 of the third. The goal came just 12 seconds after Colin Wilson’s power play goal, and the Bridgestone faithful had not even had time to sit back in their seats.

Forsberg punctuated the evening with the rare empty-net power-play goal in the game’s waning seconds. And the hats hit the ice.

Paul Gaustad's Helmet (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Paul Gaustad’s Helmet (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Well these kinds of hats did too.

Hats and other stuff on the ice in Filip Forsberg's honor. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Hats and other stuff on the ice in Filip Forsberg’s honor. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

And curiously enough, even a pair of glasses.

Glasses Trick (Jim Diamond./Rinkside Report)

Glasses Trick (Jim Diamond./Rinkside Report)

Related, this tweet from Christine deserves some love:

The 5-2 victory was also an important franchise milestone in that it was the first time a Predators team facing elimination won the game. Still with a tough task of having to beat Chicago twice more in order to advance, Nashville’s players were taking the one game at a time approach following Thursday night’s game.

“We’re not going to get too high on one victory,” Seth Jones said. “It takes four to win a series and we have two now. We know how important every game is. We break it down shift by shift how important every shift is, puck management is huge too against this team. It’s just another win. We’re still down 3-2, so we have a lot more work to do.”

Wise well beyond his age of 20, Jones had remarked at the morning skate that the series didn’t have the level of physicality and nastiness that most playoff series morph into at some time or another. Game 5 turned the corner in that respect.

“Guys are maybe getting a little frustrated here or there,” Jones said. “That’s just hockey. It’s going to get chippy at times.”

That chippiness was evidenced by a minor fracas in the corner of the Nashville zone late in the third involving Paul Gaustad and Andrew Shaw among others.

Tensions boiling over. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Tensions boiling over. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Facing another elimination Saturday, the Predators will have to win in a building that they have lost each game they have played so far this season to force a decisive Game 7 back at Bridgestone.

Shea Weber’s injury creates an opportunity for Cody Franson

By Jim Diamond

When the Predators acquired Cody Franson in a mid-February trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, expectations for the 6-foot-5 defenseman were high. After all, he had a strong start to his NHL career in a Nashville sweater and was excelling in Toronto after the Predators shipped him there in 2011.

But ever since the trade back to Nashville, Franson has looked out of place. He struggled to put up points and often found himself stapled to the end of the bench for long stretches of time. A late-season upper-body injury didn’t help things, keeping him out of the lineup for the last regular season game and Game 1 of Nashville’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Franson drew into the lineup in Friday night’s Game 2 and played well. He was visible for the right reasons and picked up the primary assist on Craig Smith’s goal at 14:54 of the second. That goal proved to be the game winner.

“I do think he played a good game last night,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said Saturday prior to the team’s departure for Chicago later Saturday afternoon. “He was moving the puck well. He got his shot off. He defended well. He jumps into the lineup and gives us a good game.”

When the Predators lost team captain Shea Weber in the second period Friday to a lower-body injury, it created some opportunities for others to pick up some of the voluminous amount of ice time that Franson’s fellow Sicamous, B.C. native logs night in and night out.

“Everybody will probably chip in and handle some of the minutes and some of the responsibility,” Laviolette said.

Franson played 16:31 in Game 2, including 1:12 of power play time.

In 55 games with Toronto this season, Franson had four goals and 11 assists on the power play. He averaged 3:05 per game on the man advantage. With Weber, Seth Jones, and Ryan Ells on the Nashville roster, Franson was fourth in line among right-handed defensemen, not a good recipe for a lot of power play time.

With Weber not making the trip to Chicago, he won’t play in Games 3 or 4. That creates a vacancy on one of the points of the power play, one that Franson will likely step into, probably on the second unit.

Not the fastest of skaters, Franson’s minutes at even strength will probably be limited against the speedy Blackhawks.

Nashville’s defense loses Weber but helps team tie series

By Jim Diamond

As the first period neared its end Friday night, Predators defenseman Roman Josi picked up the puck in his own end near the blue line on the left boards. Josi carried the puck into the Chicago zone, seemingly dancing across the blue line before unleashing a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that beat Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford high to the stick side, aided by a screen from Mike Santorelli. Just 3.4 seconds showed on the clock.

Goals scored in the last minute of periods are often referred to as momentum goals, and with the difficulties the Predators have experienced in the second period recently, they needed all the help they could get.

“He picked up the puck in our end with less than 10 seconds left on the clock and you’re thinking the period is probably just going to run out,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “But Roman has carried the puck so many times for us this year. Cutting through the neutral zone, but even then with less than six seconds on the entry to cut it across the ice and find a little bit of wiggle room to get a shot off. Santo made a nice screen in front of the net. That was a big moment in the game as well.”

And some adversity did appear in the second. At 9:17, Brandon Saad ran into Nashville captain Shea Weber at the end boards. The hit didn’t appear all that rough, but Weber collapsed to the ice. He got up quickly and skated off, putting no weight on his right leg. The team announced that he would not return to the game due to a lower-body injury.

Losing Weber meant the Predators had to go with five defensemen the rest of the way, a challenge since they did not have the traditional three pairings.

“Lot of talk, talk is always big in any type of situation, especially in the playoffs,” Cody Franson said. “It’s so loud out there and things happen so fast, that communication is just as important as anything else. When you go down to five guys like that, you try and keep your shifts short, don’t get overextended, and keep your energy levels high.”

Later in the second, Patrick Kane tied the game 2-2 on a goal that appeared to come with six Blackhawks on the ice. Running the risk of losing the first two games at home, the Predators rallied after the Kane goal, scoring the final four to win going away 6-2.

Josi had to adjust to multiple partners down the stretch. He got an opportunity to play some with Seth Jones, who was playing in just his second career NHL playoff game.

“He did great,” Josi said. “I thought he did great in the first game too. He’s such a confident guy with the puck and he makes those little plays. I thought he was awesome those two games.”

For his part, Jones retuned the admiration in Josi’s direction.

“It’s unbelievable some of the stuff he does,” Jones said. “It’s a pleasure to play with a guy like that. He makes the game so simple. We kind of had to rotate pairs a little bit this year, so it’s pretty easy playing with anyone on our D corps.”

The Predators did not have any further updates on Weber’s condition after the game.

Kevin Fiala excited about possible NHL playoff debut

By Jim Diamond

With more players than locker stalls available at Bridgestone Arena, recently recalled forward Kevin Fiala has been the odd-man out as far as fixed stalls are concerned in the Predators’ locker room. So after Tuesday’s practice, Fiala took off his equipment while sitting in a chair in front of a portable locker on casters.

The 18-year-old Fiala, a semi-surprise recall from the Milwaukee Admirals Monday in advance of Wednesday’s start of Nashville’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks, could be making his NHL playoff debut should head coach Peter Laviolette elect to pencil his name onto the lineup card at some point during the series. With just one regular season NHL game to his credit thus far, Fiala knows that the NHL’s postseason is vastly different than its regular season.

“Of course I am nervous,” he said. “It’s exciting. Hopefully I will play. If I play, I will do my best and give everything for the team to win.”

Due to a rash of injuries up front for the Predators, Fiala appeared in his first NHL game March 24th against the Montreal Canadiens on an emergency recall basis.

“The playoffs are much better and more physical, but I am ready for that also,” Fiala said.

After starting the season with HV-71 of the Swedish Hockey League, Nashville’s brass thought it was best for Fiala’s development to be playing on North American sized ice, so he was assigned to the Admirals in January. In 33 games with Milwaukee, Fiala had 11 goals and nine assists.

Roman Josi, with 10 NHL playoff games to his credit, is a grizzled veteran compared to his fellow Swiss countryman. Despite his experience, he too is feeling the nerves on the eve of the playoffs.

“Oh definitely,” he said. “I think everybody does. I definitely do. It’s an exciting time and that’s why you play for 82 games and I am definitely going to be a little nervous tomorrow night.”

Josi is proud of all that his friend has accomplished since being drafted eleventh overall by the Predators in last June’s Entry Draft.

“It’s great for him,” Josi said. “It’s awesome for him to be up here for the playoffs.”

The series with Chicago is expected to have a lot of pace to it, as both teams like to play a north-south game with speed. That kind of a game fits Fiala’s skill set perfectly.

“Fiala brings something that’s really special,” Laviolette said. “He’s got a quick, dynamic play to him. He’s got power in his strides. He can find open ice and he’s got skills that match that quickness in which he plays. That makes it tough to defend a guy like that. Young player, but certainly he’s capable, yeah.”