NASHVILLE -- Center Nick Bonino returned to Bridgestone Arena on Thursday for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup for the second straight season with the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 11, but this time he did so as a member of the Nashville Predators.
Bonino, who played two seasons in Pittsburgh, mostly as a third-line center, signed a four-year, $16.4 million contract (average annual value $4.1 million) with the Predators on July 1 when he became an unrestricted free agent.
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The Predators have questions at center, and Bonino, 29, who will no longer be overshadowed by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as he was in Pittsburgh, is anticipating a larger role in Nashville.
"I think playing behind [Crosby and Malkin], when you chip in it's always helpful, but they're going to get the lion's share of minutes and points and power-play time," Bonino said. "When [Malkin] got hurt [last season], I think that was when I got a lot of my points in [Pittsburgh] when there was more ice."
Bonino, who had 37 points (18 goals, 19 assists) in 80 games last season, played for the Anaheim Ducks from 2009-14 and the Vancouver Canucks during the 2014-15 season.
"I had bigger roles in Anaheim and Vancouver … but we'll let the chips fall where they may here and I'll talk with [coach] Peter Laviolette] and we'll see what the plan is going forward," he said.
Bonino broke his left tibia blocking a shot by defenseman P.K. Subban in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Predators and missed the rest of the series, won by the Penguins in six games. Although he didn't play a postseason game at Bridgestone Arena, he did get to experience the raucous atmosphere in the Predators' home arena and said it was a big reason he signed with Nashville.
"It was exciting to watch," Bonino said. "Every series seemed to get crazier and crazier. I think when I did get hurt in Game 2 and tried to play here in Game 4, just going out for warmups, it was almost enough to make my leg not broken. It was pretty loud. It was pretty exciting."
Bonino is able to walk without crutches and his left leg will be re-evaluated in the coming weeks.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm1: Bonino pots go-ahead goal off rush
"We elected not to do surgery," he said. "We kind of wanted to get to July 1 and see where I'd end up. I think it's good to get out here right away. It's coming along. We'll see in a couple weeks; I think we've got to revisit it and see how it's healing, but for now it's doing all right."
The uncertain future of Nashville captain and center Mike Fisher, 37, who is an unrestricted free agent, was a big reason for signing Bonino, who said he believes he can help the Predators finish what they started last season.
"I'm not coming here thinking I'll be the guy to bring [a championship]," he said. "I'm just coming to try to help a team that was really good the last few years maybe get a little bit better and do whatever I can to help, whether that's offensively or defensively. Just play hard and see if I can help them."
The Penguins were the first team in nearly 20 years to win the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons, and Bonino is hoping the Predators can make a return trip to the Final.
"It's hard," Bonino said. "It's a long year when you play this deep. You always have to make sure you recover in the summers. It seems like, from talking to the strength coach and the trainer, that's the plan. Guys are recovering and feeling good.
"It's just a really long road. I think when you've done it, you get an appreciation for how much harder it is. Losing when you get that close makes you want it that much more, so I don't see any reason why we couldn't do that again this year."