Go ahead and call David Poile a supreme prognosticator, because what the Nashville Predators
GM saw in center Jason Arnott
two summers ago was something the hockey public had never seen during his first 13 NHL seasons.
"With all due respect, (on Arnott's previous teams) he was playing secondary to other guys that had a bigger role, be it (Mike) Modano in Dallas or the guys in Jersey," Poile told NHL.com. "It was our feeling that he had more to give and could become more of a complete player on and off the ice, and that included leadership capabilities."
The return on Poile's investment is paying off in a big way.
Thanks to Arnott's leadership and production as a two-way power forward, the Predators are again on the prowl in the Western Conference playoff race despite a summer overhaul that saw Paul Kariya
, Peter Forsberg
, Kimmo Timonen
, Tomas Vokoun
, Scott Hartnell
, and Vitaly Vishnevski
leave the Music City.
Instead of rebuilding through massive free agent contracts or shrewd trades, the Predators are contending with a younger lineup that works because of its chemistry and a structured system.
Arnott, a Stanley Cup champion in 2000, is the savvy vet that holds it all together.
"It's the flip of the table now. I'm the older guy playing with all of these young guys, and it's a lot of fun," Arnott, who leads Nashville with 71 points and a plus-18 rating after 77 games. "It's hard. I'm still learning, but it's a lot of fun to see the young guys and how they play. It kind of brings me back to when I was young."
When Arnott was young, he was billed as a perennial 30-goal scorer, the ideal power forward. He scored 33 goals as a rookie with Edmonton in 1993-94, but has reached that plateau only once since (32 goals with Dallas in 2005-06). But the 6-foot-4, 220-pound center has reached his potential as a power forward, and through the most difficult of circumstances he's also realized that he's an ideal team leader, too.
All it took was some trust and patience.
At the same time Kariya, Forsberg and Vokoun and the rest of the now former Predators were lining up at the last exit out of Nashville, there was growing concern over the state of the franchise due to the highly publicized and scrutinized sale of the team. Arnott, though, never doubted his commitment to the Predators. He knew Poile's hands were tied due to budgetary constraints, but he wasn't going to become a burden just because the veteran roster Poile assembled to make a run at the Stanley Cup was disintegrating.
"That's the team I signed with and I'm the type of guy that is not going to bail on them in one year," Arnott said. "You have to go through the good and the bad. I knew it was a business thing that David had no control over. It happened, but I still like the team we have. We have a good young bunch and that was my decision. I didn't even think about asking for a trade."
His patience was ultimately rewarded on Sept. 12 when he was named team captain. It's the first time in Arnott's career he's worn the "C". Five months later, he was named an All-Star for just the second time in his career, and first since 1997.
"The challenge was out there to fill up the holes and make us as good as we can be," Poile said. "He took those roles, and that's exactly what we needed to happen. If he hadn't, I can't imagine where we'd be today."
"I'm still learning, but it's a lot of fun to see the young guys and how they play. It kind of brings me back to when I was young." - Jason Arnott
Arnott, in fact, has found that he enjoys being the team's player-spokesperson, not just in Nashville, but in every city the Predators visit. During the time of ownership unrest, he was the guy answering questions from an inquisitive media.
"Every arena we went into everybody wanted to know the status, what was going on," Arnott said. "Really, we couldn't say anything because we didn't know a lot and David didn't know a lot. He would keep me updated as much as he could so I could let the guys know that this is going to be over soon, to just keep concentrating on hockey."
Through the process, Arnott has also realized that he relishes his role as a guide to younger stars like wingers Alexander Radulov
and Jordin Tootoo
and defensemen Ryan Suter
and Shea Weber
"You can call it a natural progression," Poile said, "but it's another step in his progression to living up to all potential he already had."
It helps, of course, that Arnott is very much in his element in Nashville.
"I'm a huge country music fan. I'm a huge hunter. I love that when you leave the rink you leave the rink, you leave hockey behind," Arnott said. "We've settled in nice. My son goes to school now and he's made a lot of friends. My wife has made a lot of friends. It's just a really nice area to live in. It's southern hospitality down there."
Poile probably knew all that would happen to Arnott, too.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com