MONTREAL - Shea Weber was somewhat apprehensive about making the move to the Eastern Conference this past season, but he certainly didn't show it.
Following an 11-year stint in Nashville - the last six of which he served as captain - the 31-year-old defenseman wasted little time making his towering presence felt on the Canadiens' back end, quickly acclimating to his brand new hockey home.
Seeing plenty of ice time certainly helped in that regard. Weber averaged 25:03 of playing time per game in 78 regular-season outings in 2016-17, logging nearly 1,955 minutes between mid-October and early April. Not only did he boast the heaviest workload on the Canadiens' roster, but he was also the 10th most-utilized player League-wide as well.
"The adjustment was made pretty quickly, and it was easier than I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be difficult. Having been in one place for 11 years, I wasn't sure what to expect," said Weber, who played 763 games in a Predators uniform before being dealt to the Canadiens last June. "Looking back now, I'm really happy with everything. I love it here. I'm looking forward to moving ahead and getting better."
With 157 blocked shots and 140 hits to his credit, Weber was nothing short of a rock defensively. He was equally productive on offense, too, ranking in the Top 5 on the roster with 17 goals - including 12 power-play markers and four game winners - 25 assists, 42 points, and 183 shots on the year, picking up right where he left off in Music City.
The Sicamous, BC native insists his new teammates had everything to do with his personal success during his freshman campaign in Montreal.
"There's a good group of guys in here who made the transition easy. I felt like I fit in with them right away, and that's the difficult part," explained Weber, who earned his sixth All-Star nod in January, joining longtime buddy Carey Price in Los Angeles where he successfully defended his hardest shot crown during the annual Skills Competition. "I think I only knew two guys in this room before I got here, so I knew it was going to take a bit of time. Now, we'll keep building."
Come playoff time, Weber continued to prove his worth. Once again, the 2016 Mark Messier Leadership Award winner was the player Claude Julien and his staff featured the most, and the Canadiens' No. 6 answered the call with the game-winning tally in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden, while blocking a team-leading 20 shots during the series with his imposing frame.
Unfortunately, things didn't work out for the group as a whole against the New York Rangers, which left Weber both disappointed and hungry for a far more significant run next spring.
"It's hard to get into the playoffs, and once you get in, you never know - anyone can win it. That's the hardest part, to sit here and just realize that it's - not a wasted opportunity, we gave it our best - but it's tough to lose this opportunity. Last year, the team missed the playoffs, and you never know when you'll get back," stressed Weber, who also added two helpers in his ninth trip to the postseason. "We've got to get back there next year, and I believe we've got the group that can do it, and I believe we can make more noise next year as well."
Weber will undoubtedly play a key role in leading that playoff resurgence with the endless list of intangibles he brings to the table, all of which can make everyone around him better in the long run.
"Shea has played with a lot of the best players in the world. He's a huge part of this team and I've learned a lot from him this year," praised captain Max Pacioretty. "He brings experience we haven't really had in this room before."