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Central: Arnott is eager to carry Predators

by Larry Wigge / NHL.com

Veteran center Jason Arnott has been named the new captain of the Predators.
Many figured the Nashville Predators mainly wanted free-agent center Jason Arnott last summer because his size and skill might help the Preds if they ever wound up in another playoff series against San Jose’s huge center tandem of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

Size never hurts, especially when it comes with the hockey skills Arnott packs on his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame. But Arnott said the Predators wanted him for more than his bulk.

"When (general manager) David Poile told me they really wanted me because of the leadership I could bring to the team, I felt flattered that a team would want me because of my character and leadership ... not just my size or the goals and assists I have accumulated over the years," Arnott said. "I’ve won a Stanley Cup and played on a great line (with Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora on that Cup-winning team in New Jersey in 2000) or two. But I was honestly looking for a team where I could be considered a leader at this stage in my career."

The Collingwood, Ontario, native, who played in Edmonton, New Jersey and Dallas before going to Nashville last season, will turn 33 on Oct. 11. To say his best is yet to come may sound trite, but Arnott had 32 goals in 2005-06, his final season in Dallas, and tied for the team lead with 27 goals last season in Nashville.

 

The Predators start this season needing his leadership and stats more than ever. It’s no coincidence that without Paul Kariya, Kimmo Timonen and Tomas Vokoun, Arnott has been named the fourth captain in Predators’ history.

"I think of Scott Stevens when I was in New Jersey, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and all of the rest of the great captains we’ve had in hockey and look at this as perhaps the best honor you could get as a player," Arnott said.

"He was one of the louder voices in the dressing room," linemate Steve Sullivan said. "He knows what it takes to win and his got his message across in times of need ... loud and clear."

With this tightly wound, yet highly skilled center, it’s almost all about perception.

"You look at Jason and say; ‘‘Wow! He’s the complete package. Big. Strong. Has a great shot. Strong skater,’" Stars coach Dave Tippett said after a three-assist performance against St. Louis a couple of seasons ago. "The next thought you have is; ‘Why? Why hasn’t he achieved greatness?’ And what is it that I can do to extract that all that skill and talent.’ "

Glimpses of greatness. Some long. Some short. When Arnott is motivated, he’s a tough player to play against -- like in his rookie season, when he had an impressive 33 goals and 35 assists in Edmonton, or for nearly three full seasons in New Jersey, when he centered an awesome line with Elias and Sykora ... their best moment together coming in June 2000, when Arnott scored the Stanley-Cup winning goal in double overtime of Game 6 in Dallas.

After watching Arnott play in Nashville last season, you could sense he felt he was more appreciated than questioned -- like he was at times -- for underachieving in Edmonton, New Jersey and Dallas. Those words of praise for his leadership from Poile were just what Arnott wanted to hear. He was, at times, a force for the Predators last season.

But are those big shoulders strong enough to carry all of Nashville?

"I've learned a lot from watching guys like Craig MacTavish in Edmonton, Scott Stevens in New Jersey and Mike Modano and Derian Hatcher in Dallas,” Arnott said. "Hopefully I can bring some of what I learned from them and what I know to the table here.”

Jason Arnott has netted 698 points (303 goals, 395 assists) in 892 games played for four different teams in 15 NHL seasons

Arnott, who has four years left on his five-year contract, was upbeat and positive about the prospects for the Preds this season -- especially with some of the younger players and role players from last season who may be more of an opportunity to show their skills on offense this season.

"I'll probably be a little bit more vocal in the locker room,” Arnott said. "I'd like to communicate more with some of the younger guys. When I was a younger player and the older guys came to check on you, it made you feel great -- more part of the team.”

The determination in Arnott’s voice to step up and be a leader came with a giant smile from Arnott.

"You want to be in control of your destiny," Arnott said. "You want put it on yourself to be better. Living up to expectations others have for you can be hard. But I’ve learned to live up to my own expectations."

And to help the rest of the Nashville Predators to live up to their expectations they’ve created for themselves with club-record totals of 49 and 51 wins the last two seasons.

Around the Central Division -- Copy cat NHL? We saw what two powerful defense tandems featuring Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger could do to help the Anaheim Ducks win their first Stanley Cup in June. Maybe Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock had more than a fleeting thought about trying to assimilate a similar scenario in Detroit, having Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Chris Chelios and Niklas Kronwall -- with Lidstrom and Rafalski playing together. Those two will start the season together, and it’s no coincidence that the Wings think Lidstrom and Rafalski can be both a shutdown pair on defense and multifaceted offensive threats. Rafalski, a metro Detroit native, made his Red Wings preseason debut by assisting Johan Franzen on a goal 28 seconds into the game. Then he was a threat offensively with some awfully pretty long passes that set up scoring opportunities in an impressive 6-1 victory over the New York Rangers. ... Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk figure to do just fine apart -- for now. Zetterberg is expected to play between Mikael Samuelsson and Jiri Hudler, while Datsyuk has become pretty comfortable centering Tomas Holmstrom and Franzen. Last season, both players needed a jumpstart in December, so Babcock put Zetterberg and Datsyuk on the same line with Holmstrom and the threesome dominated. Zetterberg and Datsyuk have really grown up and look forward to showing more leadership -- on their own. ... The first time you see the Nashville Predators this season, don’t do a double-take when you see a smallish, Finnish-born, offensively skilled defenseman flash in front of you and wonder: Didn’t the Preds trade Kimmo Timonen? Your eyesight will be just fine. It’s just that Ville Koistinen, like Timonen a veteran of more than a handful of seasons under his belt in the Finnish Elite League, has shown enough of that Timonen flash-and-dash for the Predators to keep him as a sixth or seventh defenseman. The 5-11, 190-pounder, who turned 25 in June, had nine goals and 32 assists in just 59 games for Milwaukee of the American Hockey League last season, his season in North America. He won’t push Shea Weber, Ryan Suter or Dan Hamhuis out of the quality minutes they’ve earned the last couple seasons, but put Koistinen on your ones-to-watch list. ... If the St. Louis Blues schedule the Minnesota Wild in a home-and-home preseason series next year, don’t look for veteran defenseman Jay McKee to volunteer to play in Minnesota -- not after having the start to his first two seasons in St. Louis short-circuited by injuries in preseason games in Minnesota each year. McKee, who looked quicker than ever in training camp after a long summer of conditioning, blocked a shot last in the third period of a game last week and learned that he will miss four-to-six weeks after breaking a bone in his right foot. Last season, he lost the first six games with a knee injury after being run over by Minnesota’s Derek Boogaard. The injury gives either David Tanabe or former Minnesota State-Mankato defenseman Steve Wagner a long look before opening night in Phoenix on Oct. 4. Tanabe is in St. Louis on a tryout basis, while Wagner was signed as a free agent out of college and has continued to turn heads in the Blues’ front office since that signing last March. They raved about his play in a brief trial at Peoria (AHL) late last season and again in their rookie camp and further in the St. Louis camp. ... Another young defenseman getting raves is Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Kris Russell, a smallish (5-10, 167 pounds) third-round pick in 2005 out of Medicine Hat. Coach Ken Hitchcock raves about Russell’s maturity and hockey sense the way he did with Daryl Sydor, another Western Hockey League defender he coached in Kamloops and eventually brought to Dallas. Power-play goals will be key in Columbus -- and Hitchcock seems prepared to start the season against Anaheim at home Oct. 5 with Russell and Sergei Fedorov on the points when the Blue Jackets have the man advantage. ... If Derick Brassard, the Jackets’ No. 1 pick in 2006, continues to shine, Hitchcock may have to consider using him at center on the team’s No. 1 line with Rick Nash and David Vyborny. For now, the coach doesn’t want to put undo pressure on such a kid who just turned 20 on Sept. 22. ... Competition was the buzzword in the Chicago Blackhawks camp. The Hawks acquired Sergei Samsonov from Montreal in a summer trade for the purpose of using the five-time 20-goal scorer on the No. 1 line with Robert Lang and Martin Havlat. But don’t be surprised to see a former University of Wisconsin buzz saw in Samsonov’s spot if he underachieves like he did last season for the Canadiens (nine goals, 17 assists). Adam Burish, who helped the Badgers win an NCAA championship two years ago, had just 11 goals and 10 assists in 64 games at Norfolk of the AHL last season. But in a couple of preseason auditions on the line with Havlat and Lang, he seemed to fit like a glove with his speed and skill and feistiness. To be sure, Burish’s work ethic, skills and speed shows the depth that has Chicago fans thinking the Hawks could make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

The week ahead -- Opening night. Rematch. Anaheim at Detroit on Wednesday in a battle of last spring’s Western Conference finalists, won by the Ducks four games to two. An interesting twist to this matchup is that Anaheim signed left winger Todd Bertuzzi and defenseman Mathieu Schneider, both Detroit free agents, in the offseason. ... Everyone will be watching the attendance figure from the Colorado-Nashville opener in Music City on Oct. 4. The Predators stayed in Nashville partly due to on a promise by fans to buy more tickets. Nashville’s 28-8-5 record at home last season was fourth-best in the NHL – and another season like that at the Sommet Center would be a good way to attract fans.

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