Since making his NHL debut on Jan. 6, 2006, Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber has come a long way in a short amount of time.
The former second-round pick in the 2003 Entry Draft already has put together three seasons of 16 or more goals and 40 or more points. This past year, he suited up for his country in his home province of British Columbia and helped Canada win the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics. And he enters the 2010-11 campaign as the new captain in Nashville, inheriting the "C" from Jason Arnott following his trade to New Jersey.
At the tender age of 25, Weber is already a grizzled veteran as far as the Predators are concerned, even if he doesn't quite see himself that way.
"It's almost weird saying that, just because I still feel pretty young," Weber told NHL.com in regards to his expanded leadership role. "But I'm open to guys coming for help. Any way I can help -- I appreciated it when guys did it to me when I was young."
Dan Hamhuis, was heading into unrestricted free agency this past offseason and had his rights traded to the Flyers on June 19, the same day Arnott was sent to the Devils. A few weeks later, Weber was being introduced as the fifth captain in franchise history.
"I found out probably about a week before I had to go down to Nashville for the announcement," he said. "It's exciting, obviously, it's a new thing for me, but we've got a great group of leaders in Nashville, guys that are going to help out, and I don't think it's going to change anything."
Weber played under three of the four previous captains for the Predators -- Arnott, Kimmo Timomen and Greg Johnson -- and was able to absorb a little from each of their styles. He also said he won't hesitate to seek out additional veteran advice when necessary.
"I've played for a few captains in Nashville and I think I'm going to try to take little bits and pieces of things I've learned from them," Weber said. "They're great guys and they're obviously open to talking. They told me to call them if I have any questions. But everyone leads in their own way, so it's going to be different and hopefully good."
Predators GM David Poile indicated the decision to name Weber captain was among the easier ones he's made during his tenure.
"Whether it was me, the coaches, or if you were to go ask another veteran player, I couldn't see it being anything other than a unanimous decision," Poile said. "Being around and watching Shea develop, nobody thought it should be any different. He fits where we're trying to go right now and the timing could not be any better."
The past season's experiences have provided ample learning opportunities for Weber, a key contributor in bringing Olympic gold home to a hockey-crazed nation. He contributed 2 goals and 6 points in finishing second among defensemen in scoring and was named to the tournament's all-star team.
For Weber, a Sicamous, B.C. native, the only thing that could make winning Olympic gold better was getting to do it right in his own backyard.
"It's hard to describe it even in words … it's something that you dream of as a kid," he said. "Everything was put in place that year. The Olympics were in Canada, in my home province in Vancouver, close to where I grew up, so all my family and friends were there. Not only being able to play in it but to win a gold medal for your country, it's tough to sum that up."
One of the lessons gained on the journey was perseverance -- Canada ended up having to play a game in the qualification round after a preliminary-round loss to the United States, then blew a two-goal lead to the U.S. in the gold-medal game, including allowing the tying goal with 24.4 seconds left in regulation, before Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winner.
"Just the way that we went about winning -- we didn't make it easy on ourselves, having to play the extra game against Germany and then of course the quarterfinals against Russia," Weber said. "Just watching guys and how they stay composed throughout that whole thing and really not doubting ourselves, I think that was a really big step for me to learn."
Not all adversity culminates in a storybook ending, though, as Weber experienced with the Predators less than two months later. Nashville had eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago on the ropes in the first round of the playoffs, leading Game 5 on the road by a goal in the final minute of regulation and up a man after a major penalty to Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa.
But the Predators yielded a shorthanded goal to Patrick Kane with 13.6 seconds left and Hossa netted the OT winner just 10 seconds after his penalty expired, giving the Blackhawks a pivotal 5-4 win and a 3-2 series lead. They wrapped it up on Nashville ice two nights later, dropping the Predators to 0-5 all-time in playoff series.
"This is a big year for us," Weber said. "I think we need to take a step forward. That was one of the hardest losses I've ever suffered in hockey. It's going to stick with me for a long time, but hopefully we can learn from that and be better because of it this year."
Being drafted by and coming up through an organization that has been a model of stability over the years -- original GM David Poile and coach Barry Trotz are still going strong in their respective positions -- Weber could be wearing the "C" in Nashville for a long time to come. If things shake out that way, he'll be more than happy with it.
"To have the organization showcase you as a young player, you want to give them your best effort and everything you can," Weber said. "It's a great organization, a great city, and I love playing there.
"I definitely could see that (playing his whole career there). I love everything about it. It's a great place to play, the fans are great and the city's awesome."