For many, the 2016-17 season was thought to be one of great promise for the Nashville Predators. Thanks to a busy offseason that included the acquisition of P.K. Subban from Montreal, the expectation of a better Pekka Rinne and finally having a number one center in Ryan Johansen.
Thus far the campaign has been slow. The Preds (15-12-5) are an above .500 hockey club on the cusp of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. After opening the season with three wins in their first 11, the Music City is starting to get in tune. While Johansen and Subban are both having early success in their first full season, one Predator of note has started coming into his own.
Prior to the season, Viktor Arvidsson’s finest hour came last spring versus San Jose in game 6 of the second round of the playoffs. A backhand shot in overtime helped extend their second round series versus the Sharks to a seventh game, ultimately falling 5-0 as San Jose went on to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The goal remains Arvidsson’s only in the postseason to date and was preceded by a 16-points in 56 games rookie season. In thirty-two games to open this season, he’s already surpassed that marker with 23 points, sharing the team lead in points with Johansen. No longer is he part of the team’s up front depth, he’s front-and-center.
One reason for his success has been the chemistry he’s found playing alongside captain Mike Fisher and James Neal on the team’s third line, who have combined for 32 goals on the season.
He and that line were up to their usual tricks Tuesday night in New Jersey as Neal collected both first period goals for Nashville with Arvidsson picking up assists on both. He’d add another helper late in the third on a Johansen short-handed goal as the Preds skated past the Devils 5-1.
Tuesday’s showing was a continuation on a season that has started to define the undersized, fourth round pick from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Especially lately—where Arvidsson has collected 9 points in 8 games (2-7). But don’t expect the 23-year-old Swedish-born winger to get a big head over his success.
“I play with good players and everything and a good team,” he said. “I just try to work hard and get bounces—it’s nice, but I just have to keep working hard.”
Getting fed twice in the first might be incentive to sing the praise of a line mate, to which Neal obliged.
“(He) had a good season last year and he’s just building on that,” he said. “He brings a lot of speed, he’s got a great shot and that relentless pursuit of the puck. It’s effective.”
While that effectiveness has been one of the nice surprises this season, head coach Peter Laviolette hasn’t been caught off guard by the player’s success.
“He was our leading scorer the first year in the minors when he got drafted and came up,” Laviolette said. “He’s always got points, uses his speed and loved to shoot the puck.
And then there’s just the matter of making that happen at every level. Like all your life you have to prove yourself and he’s done that.”
The Preds remain in the thick of things as the calendar is about to strike 2017—and perhaps even more important goals will follow in the career of Nashville’s not-so-secret-anymore gem.