By Jeremy K. Gover, Section303.com
Shea Weber is not only the best Canadian player ever to don a Predators sweater but he’s the best player, period.
Weber’s 291 points all-time is fourth-most in franchise history and his 108 goals is third most. Only Kimmo Timonen has more points from the Nashville blueliner (301) and Weber should pass him in the first part of the 2013-14 campaign.
But Weber’s value is much more than just stats. He’s the first home-grown captain in club history, he’s a two-time Norris Trophy runner-up, he’s one of the faces of the franchise locally and he’s one of the few players in Music City that would actually be recognized as one of the faces of the league. He formed one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL alongside Ryan Suter but, when Suter jumped ship, Weber didn’t miss a beat skating with young Swiss-phenom Roman Josi. He’s in the prime of his career at 27 years old and – as much as Philadelphia Flyer fans would love to believe otherwise – he’ll be leading this team for a long time.
There’s still a long way to go, obviously, but the Predators have been in existence for 16 years now and Weber is their first legit shot at a Nashville-drafted and developed Hall of Famer.
: Pekka Rinne
Kuopio native Kimmo Timonen is third on the franchise’s all-time list in points (301) and assists (222). He was also the team’s third captain, an original Predator and a steady presence on the blueline for eight seasons. He would be a shoo-in were it not for a certain netminder.
Pekka Rinne was drafted so late in 2004 that that round doesn’t even exist anymore. An eighth round pick out of Finland, Rinne is a text book example of how Nashville likes to develop its prospects. He spent three full seasons with their farm club in Milwaukee before earning a full-time roster spot with the big club in 2008. Once in Music City, however, he wrestled the starting role away from incumbent Dan Ellis and never looked back.
Going into this season, he leads all Nashville goaltenders in shutouts (30), save percentage (.919) and goals-against average (2.36) and he’s second in wins (153) and games played (293). Of course, being a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist doesn’t hurt either.
Rinne was snubbed by Team Finland at the 2010 Olympics. They chose then-Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Antero Niittymäki as the third goalie. Pretty safe to say they won’t make that mistake again come February 2014.
As painful as it is to give Ryan Suter any Preds-related accolades at all, it has to be done. His 238 points in Music City ranks third on the franchise’s all-time list and he was the other half of the league’s best defense pair until he left Nashville last summer.
Which brings us to the controversy.
General Manager David Poile believed with every once of his being that Suter wanted to remain a Predator. Poile is a guy who rarely shows emotion one way or the other. So, when he was visibly frustrated on July 4, 2012, it was obvious what had happened.
“I was looking at all my notes (from our conversations) yesterday and Ryan had said in November that he’s not going anywhere else. He is signing with the Nashville Predators. That’s a quote,” Poile said.
Poile was tremendously loyal to Suter through the entire process. He kept in constant contact with his agent, Neil Sheehy, he tried to comply with Suter’s “list of demands,” he refused to field offers at the trade deadline despite knowing the return would be huge and he didn’t even trade his negotiating rights at the draft when he could’ve at least got something for the impending free agent. He wanted to remain loyal to his 2003 first round draft pick but, apparently, the pick didn’t want to return the favor.
Suter, of course, went onto the Wild and got himself a Norris nomination of his own, something he probably wouldn’t have gotten while under Weber’s shadow. But contention for personal trophies may cost him the ultimate team trophy. The Wild edged the Columbus Blue Jackets (thanks only to tie breakers) to get into the playoffs despite playing in a division with perennial-basement teams Edmonton, Calgary and Colorado, the team reportedly lost $30 million last season and Hockey Prospectus has Minnesota’s system slotted 22nd in their 2013 Organizational Rankings so the future doesn’t exactly look bright either.
Regardless of all the drama surrounding him in Nashville, Suter deserves the honor of best American-born player in franchise history.
This organization knows their Swedes and has had no shortage of them playing inside 501 Broadway. So while Filip Forsberg may get the crown (pun intended) once it’s all said and done, Patric Hornqvist is the rightful owner currently.
His 84 career goals and 163 career points have been amassed in 287 games. Only Jason Arnott (107 goals, 229 points) has been more productive in less games (275) while donning a Predators sweater.
At just 26 years old, Hornqvist is just entering the prime of his career and, on April 30, Nashville signed him to a five year extension. The fact that he never takes a shift off is his greatest attribute. The fact that he isn’t afraid to stand in front of the net and do what is necessary to score goals is a bonus. He has led the Preds in goals in two of his four full years and finished ninth in team scoring (and third in shots) despite missing half of last season due to two separate injuries.
With fellow high-octane, always-hustle guys like Gabriel Bourque and Taylor Beck in the fold now, Predators fans are chomping at the bit to see how Hornqvist rebounds in 2013-14.
Speaking of controversy. Alexander Radulov was the first – and still the only – proven dynamic scoring winger the Predators have ever drafted.
After posting 18 points in his first 11 professional games, it was clear that Radulov was too good for the AHL-level. Once up with the big club full-time, he posted 37 points in 68 contests, the franchise’s rookie scoring record. He followed that up by tallying 28 goals and 58 points in his sophomore campaign. Nashville had finally found the cog they can build their offense around.
Then he bolted.
In the summer of 2008, the KHL in his native Russia came calling and, at the worst possible moment, he caught a flight back home to the mother land. The draft had already happened, the top free agents had already been gobbled up and Nashville’s scoring prodigy had left them high and dry with no viable options.
After four seasons in the KHL in which he had become a four-time All-Star, a KHL MVP award winner and a Gagarin Cup Champion, Radulov made his triumphant return to North America by rejoining the Predators in time for their playoff run in 2012. He was considered by most to be “the final piece” to a Stanley Cup puzzle. Instead, he became the scapegoat (fairly or unfairly is up for debate) for their second round collapse to the overachieving Phoenix Coyotes.
Radulov would return to the KHL that summer and continue to be a controversial figure in Music City.
The second longest tenured Predator until his trade to the Washington Capitals this past March, Martin Erat went from a fringe draft pick to one of the franchise’s best forwards.
A seventh round choice in 1999, Erat would go onto register 163 goals, 318 assists, 481 points and log 723 games in his 11 seasons with the Preds. Only David Legwand has better numbers in each category. A consistent 55-point guy when playing a full year, Erat even represented his native Czech Republic in both the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Games, proving his reach goes well beyond Nashville.
His trade request rubbed some fans the wrong way but Nashville may have gotten a key to their future in return. Swedish phenom Filip Forsberg was the lone piece that came over from the Caps in the deal for Erat and prospect Michael Latta. If Forsberg can do half the things the experts say he can, Erat’s impact on this organization will stretch long after his departure.
Marcel Goc, center, Calw, Germany
Just one of the many diamonds-in-the-rough that General Manager David Poile and the Predators have been so good at finding, Marcel Goc came over from the San Jose Sharks during the summer of 2009. He signed a two-way deal but never sniffed Milwaukee.
Typically a third line center who could contribute occasionally, the versatile Goc could play anywhere in the lineup. When the Preds were decimated down the middle due in 2010-11 due to injuries to Matthew Lombardi, David Legwand and Cal O’Reilly, he spent some time as the top line center and didn’t look out of place at all. In 124 games donning a Preds sweater, the Calw, Germany, native bagged 54 points. Not bad for someone who’s supposed to be bottom-six forward.
The oft-injured Goc moved onto the Florida Panthers after two seasons with Nashville but there are still some fans who miss him. Heck, you’ll still see the occasional German Olympic jersey around Nashville with “GOC” on the back. And on a club like the Predators where lines are mixed and matched all the time, the 29-year old pivot would have been nice to have had around during last season’s parade to the IR.
Roman Josi, Defense, Bern, Switzerland
Only 100 games into his NHL career and some are already calling him the heir-apparent to Ryan Suter. And, after a season of skating alongside Suter’s old defense partner without looking out of place, why shouldn’t they?
Wanting to lock up all of the key cogs in the defense corps, the Predators inked Josi to a seven-year extension this summer worth a very reasonable $28 million. The Bern, Switzerland, native tallied just 18 points during the lockout-shortened campaign but was one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise hellacious season for Nashville. Josi was one of just three Predators who skated in all 48 games and his poise with the puck – even when their season was collapsing around them – was something to marvel at.
Nashville’s second round pick in 2008 was named tournament MVP, was the top scoring defensemen and took home a silver medal at this summer’s IIHF World Championships. No Swiss player had ever won an individual award in the tournament’s 83-year history.
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