NASHVILLE -- Hockey fans in Nashville have been in love with P.K. Subban ever since he set foot on stage at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and sang his rendition of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" on July 17.
It was the city's first taste of the dynamic, outspoken, star defenseman who has helped make the Nashville Predators one of the popular picks to compete for the Stanley Cup this season. The Predators begin their quest against the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, CSN-CH, NHL.TV).
When Subban was traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Predators for defenseman Shea Weber on June 29, his mobile, attacking style on the ice seemed to be a perfect fit with the way Predators coach Peter Laviolette wants to play.
But Subban's impact off the ice could be equally as important.
His vibrant personality has Nashville buzzing in a way it never has before heading into an NHL season. When people bring up the Predators, Subban is the first name they mention. He has quickly become the face of hockey in Nashville, and he hasn't even played a regular-season game yet.
"He brings more attention to the team," former Tennessee Titans wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "He brings more of a personal feel, more personal attention to the team. Him being out, him being visible, interacting with fans the way he does, whether it's singing at Tootsie's or just being engaged with the fans.
"I think that more than anything draws people to him, and it will draw people to the Nashville Predators. They've already got a huge fan base, but I think the addition of [Subban] gives them something that they didn't have in the community. I think a guy that is willing to be out there, a guy that's willing to be energetic and fun."
The Predators have had star players before. Forwards Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg spent time in Music City, Pekka Rinne has been a top-level goaltender for years, and Weber was a Norris Trophy candidate for most of his time in Nashville. However, never before have the Predators had a personality as infectious as Subban's.
"I think he's the missing piece," Predators fan Phillip Reid said. "We've had the guys that are at the tail end of their careers. We've had Steve Sullivan, Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg, but never when they were at the height of their careers. Subban is at the height of his career. From a marketing perspective, that's a great missing piece and the entertainment value is there. I think right now the team is coming together."
The Predators have been a big part of generating business in Nashville, especially the area around Bridgestone Arena and Broadway. Nashville has become one of the hottest destinations in North America, and hockey fans from across the United States and Canada come to watch games and check out the city.
Video: Subban says he loves the city and people of Nashville
The business the Predators and the NHL provide local businesses does not go unnoticed to people like Pub5 general manager Dan Frankenbach.
"It definitely puts a boost [in business]," Frankenbach said. "We get a lot from [Bridgestone Arena] traffic in general, whether it's Predators or not, but with the Predators we get more of the local people. And also we have a strong out-of-town following. My theory on that is a lot people are kind of enamored with Nashville and they view it as the 'hip city' or whatever, and so you get a lot of people coming."
Frankenbach believes the addition of Subban is going to dramatically increase the spotlight on the Predators, which will also increase the amount of business in the Nashville area.
"I think bringing on a big national player like [Subban], with national recognition, it kind of just puts us more in the limelight," Frankenbach said. "It enables us to do more and be on that national stage and just get more of a relevance."
The vibe and connection Predators fans feel toward Subban is just different. Subban carries with him a persona and a presence that is almost bigger than hockey. It's a chance to grow the popularity of the game in a way that Nashville has never had before.
"P.K. Subban is interesting in that he's the first player that I've seen that has come in with such a presence," Predators fan Jordan Farrell said. "Montreal was devastated when he left. I mean they were devastated. For a town to be that sad for a hockey player is leaving, granted it's in Canada, but that's huge. I think that he brings a lot of personal character with him, and he does a lot on his own with or without the team that he's with.
"He just has a force with him that you can see, and I think that's getting a lot of people very excited for him. I mean, he has social media presence, he's been to children's hospitals here, a lot of different restaurants here, and has just been incredible at the restaurants he's been to, a very nice guy. I think the whole town is talking about him."
Many around Nashville believe Subban is the final piece to what could help the Predators advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The Predators were eliminated by the Blackhawks in the 2015 Western Conference First Round of the playoffs. They were eliminated in the second round by the San Jose Sharks in 2016. With the addition of Subban, Predators fans believe they have the best team in Nashville history.
"I think the fan base just feels they're right on the doorstep now," Mason said. "They see it as a process. You get to the first round one year, get to the second round the next year, and then the third year, it's Western Conference Final or even Stanley Cup, so that's why people are so enthused and so ready for the season to start."
Hype for the Predators is at an all-time high, largely thanks to Subban. Fans now want to see if that hype will translate into greater success on the ice.