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X-Factor

Rookie Pontus Aberg providing offensive boost for Predators

Forward spent most of season in AHL, could help Nashville against Penguins in Stanley Cup Final

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- Pontus Aberg has gone from playing in the American Hockey League to getting the chance to fill a key role for the Nashville Predators in their drive to the Stanley Cup Final. He's making the most of his opportunity.

"This is where you want to be," the 23-year-old forward said. "You want to play these games. This is what you've been working for the whole year, to get back up and have an impact and show what I can do up there and help the team." 

Aberg led Milwaukee of the AHL with 52 points (31 goals, 21 assists) in 56 games. He was recalled by the Predators on several occasions during the regular season and had two points (one goal, one assist) in 15 NHL games but never stuck as a full-time player.

However, he was called up before the Stanley Cup Playoffs began last month and has four points (one goal, three assists) in 10 games, helping the Predators advance to the Cup Final for the first time since entering the NHL in the 1998-99 season. He played on the top line with Filip Forsberg and Colton Sissons in the past two games of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks after Ryan Johansen was ruled out for the playoffs following Game 4 because of acute compartment syndrome in his left thigh.

 

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"I've been playing a lot down [in Milwaukee], helping me to get even more ready," Aberg said. "I've been playing a lot of minutes down there, been playing everything, so it's been helpful for me to get back up here."

Aberg is one of several young players who spent time in Milwaukee during the season and has been a contributor for the Predators during the playoffs.

"It says a lot about the system in Milwaukee and also the guys here in the locker room," goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "I feel everybody can kind of be themselves and feel at ease when they come here."

After playing in every game in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks, Aberg missed the second round against the St. Louis Blues with an undisclosed injury. It took him some time to adjust to the speed of the playoffs against the Blackhawks, and he had to do it all over against the Ducks.

"I could feel that in the first couple of games in the Chicago series," Aberg said. "I missed out on the whole St. Louis series and the first game back [against the Ducks] felt really fast again. After that, I've got to stick to my game. I want to play fast, and I think I can handle that up here."

When Aberg got a chance to play on the top line in Game 5 against the Ducks, he scored the winning goal in a 3-1 victory. He followed that with two assists in Nashville's 6-3 series-clinching win in Game 6.

Video: Predators take a 3-2 series lead over the Ducks

The Predators are four wins away from their first championship and are preparing for Game 1 of the Final at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). It's an opportunity Aberg wasn't sure he'd be a part of when the season began.

"It's unbelievable," Aberg said. "You didn't think that before this year that you'd be playing for the Stanley Cup, you know what I mean? It's huge. I've got my family coming over here to watch me play at the highest level in the world. It's going to be pretty special." 

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