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Stanley Cup Final

Colton Sissons thrust into spotlight for Predators in Stanley Cup Final

Center, who had hat trick in Game 6 of Western Conference Final, to meet challenge against Penguins

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

NASHVILLE -- It hasn't been easy for Colton Sissons to find his equilibrium in the wake of his star-making performance in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.

Sissons, elevated to No. 1 center for the Nashville Predators because of injuries to Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher, scored three goals -- a natural hat trick, no less -- Monday in a 6-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks and propel the Predators into their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh is on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVA Sports). 

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Predators series coveragePekka Rinne leader for Conn Smythe Trophy]

 

"These are brand new feelings and emotions," Sissons said Friday. "[Winning the Western Conference] on Monday night and now here we are, preparing for the Penguins, the defending [Stanley Cup] champion. So it is a bit surreal."

It would be hard to be anything but surreal for Sissons, who has been thrust from virtual anonymity into a starring role after Nashville's top centers each were injured in Game 4 against the Ducks. 

Johansen sustained a season-ending thigh injury and Fisher sustained an undisclosed injury, but has been skating for the past two days. His status for Monday is undetermined.

No matter Fisher's status, Sissons, 23, will play an elevated role in the Stanley Cup Final, moved up by fate and asked to deliver despite his inexperience.

He is still coming to grips with those new-found responsibilities. 

Video: Sissons' hat trick propels Preds to Stanley Cup Final

It took him the better part of Tuesday to clear his phone of the emails and texts he received from all corners of the hockey world. He has spent other free time organizing the arrival of a large family contingent to Nashville to cheer him on when the series moves here for Game 3 on Saturday.

"It's been busier than I am used to, that is for sure," Sissons said, laughing. "But I sure do appreciate everybody reaching out with congratulations."

On Monday, he heard from family, he heard from buddies back home and players he skates with in the summer. He also heard from his peers across the League who reached out to share the moment.

Each of those players grew up dreaming of being thrust onto such a stage and dominating the way Sissons did.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette says he doesn't see a different player when he looks at Sissons, who, in 16 postseason games, has matched his point total (10) from 58 regular-season games. Sissons had eight goals and two assists in the regular season and has five goals and five assists this postseason, tied for the fourth-most points on the team with three other players.

"He's getting an opportunity," said Laviolette, who put Sissons in a sink-or-swim situation when he promoted him to top-line center, drawing matchups against either Ryan Getzlaf or Ryan Kesler, veteran centers from the Anaheim Ducks. Sissons responded with four points and a plus-7 rating in those two games.

"He's being relied on in more situations and he's become a dependable player, someone that we count on," Laviolette said. "He's a very smart player. Now with the opportunity he has gotten his role has expanded and he's embraced it and excelled at it."

Video: Nashville advances to the Stanley Cup Final

It's easy to forget this is all relatively new to Sissons, who was selected in the second round (No. 50) by the Predators in the 2012 NHL Draft. 

The 2016-17 season was his breakthrough, his first season spent entirely in the NHL.

He made the Predators during the 2013-14 season, played 17 games and had one goal and three assists before he was sent back to Milwaukee, the team's affiliate in the American Hockey League.

Sissons thought another call-up was imminent but it was 19 long months before he returned.

The Predators believe in seasoning their prospects and Sissons would not be an exception. He spent all of the 2014-15 season in the AHL.

During the 2015-16 season, he appeared in 34 regular-season games. He also played in 10 of 14 postseason games, turning some heads with his defensive acumen.

The trips between Milwaukee and Nashville only honed Sissons desire to become an impact player.

"I think motivation for me was to become a full-time NHL player, which is what I really set out to be ever since I got drafted to Nashville," he said. "Obviously you want to win a Stanley Cup as a kid growing up, but it really started with me wanting to be a NHL [player] and just went from there. It's happened pretty quickly lately, obviously."

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Sissons on hat trick, Game 6 win

So quickly that Sissons, after a total of 109 regular-season games across three NHL seasons, is already accepted as an important cog by the veterans on the Predators.

"[Colton] is a very steady player," said defenseman Ryan Ellis, who went through the same developmental route Sissons has. "He's got that offensive knack. He may not always get to show it as much as most guys. 

"He is a very trusted member of this team. We rely on him defensively and penalty killing and all that stuff and now his role is expanded. You saw a glimpse of that already and it's been great." 

A new challenge awaits in the Penguins.

As a top-two center, Sissons faces the unenviable task of going head-to-head against either Evgeni Malkin, who leads the playoffs in scoring with 24 points in 19 games, or Sidney Crosby, the No. 1 player in the world in the mind of many. Crosby has 20 points this postseason.

That is a tall order for someone who just a few short years ago as a teenaged fan was watching Crosby and Malkin and dominate hockey.   

But Sissons insists he is ready for it. He plans to meet it head on like he has the other challenges put in his path this season. It is nothing more than another opportunity to be seized, another step to be made in his maturation as a dependable player.

"Going head-to-head with those types of guys, it's a big challenge, a big test," Sissons said. "That is what you play this game for, to be on the biggest stage against the best players, and the defending champs, so it is going to be a lot of fun."

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