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Viktor Arvidsson turns hard work into breakout season

24-year-old forward has parlayed speed, extra effort into top-line spot with Predators

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

CHICAGO -- Don't call Viktor Arvidsson an overnight sensation.

To do so would be a disservice to the Nashville Predators forward, as well as to the people who helped develop his game to its current elite level.

Arvidsson scored the game-winning goal Thursday in a 1-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series at United Center. Game 2 is Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports 2).

The Game 1 heroics were the continuation of a breakout season for Arvidsson, who scored 31 goals in his first full NHL season. The 24-year-old forward played 56 games with the Predators in 2015-16, but also spent some time with Milwaukee in the American Hockey League.

So how did this transition from fringe player to first-liner take place? How did a player who scored eight goals in those 56 regular-season games and one in 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games a year earlier have a 30-goal season, one that appeared to come out of nowhere?

Video: NSH@CHI, Gm1: Arvidsson tips in Forsberg's dish

The answer is simple: old-fashioned hard work. Effort is the attribute that has defined Arvidsson since he was tearing up the youth leagues in Sweden while playing with Skelleftea AIK.

"He gets to those areas where you need to score goals," said center Mike Fisher, Nashville's captain. "Battles, competes, never gives up. That is something you can't teach."

You may not be able to teach effort, but you can focus it. Several people have had a part in that process during the past few years.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette is one. Laviolette first met Arvidsson in Nashville after being hired as coach on May 6, 2014. Arvidsson, an undrafted free agent, showed up for development camp a few weeks later and made an impression.

"Development camp took place and he came in and I remember leaving [thinking] how impressed I was. I told him that day how impressed I was with him because of the way he explodes and the way he skates," Laviolette said. "He was noticeable in practice and he was noticeable in the way he shot the puck."

Arvidsson, who had turned 21 a month earlier, still remembers that chat with Laviolette and the impact it had.

"It made try to work even harder to get this chance, to play in the best league in the world," Arvidsson said. "I took it in and I said to myself, 'One day I want to play here,' and I just worked as hard as I could to get here."

He played six games with Nashville that first season in North America and realized that his speed, the thing that Laviolette noticed immediately, was his ticket to the NHL. It was the tool that would silence questions about his size: 5-foot-9, 180 pounds.

In each of the past two summers, he has returned to Sweden and worked with his coach from Skelleftea AIK on his explosiveness and the ability to call on it throughout a game instead of just in isolated moments.

"I've been a smaller guy my whole life and I had to rely on my quickness, but three or four years ago, I tried to work at it really hard," he said. "Two summers in a row, I tried to make that my attribute, the stamp of my game; beat guys with speed instead of trying to outmuscle guys."

The hard work has paid huge dividends.

Nashville forward Filip Forsberg, who has scored more than 30 goals in each of the past two seasons, is envious of at least one part of Arvidsson's game.

Video: NSH@NYI: Arvidsson taps home Forsberg's nifty feed

"I wish I could skate like that," Forsberg said, smiling and shaking his head as he looked across the dressing room in the direction of Arvidsson.

The other thing that has made Arvidsson so good this season? The struggles and disappointments he encountered at various points last season.

Arvidsson was not happy about scoring one goal in 14 games during last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, not when the Predators needed offense from all comers in a seven-game series win against the Anaheim Ducks and a seven-game loss to the San Jose Sharks. But he learned a valuable lesson about postseason hockey.

"Every guy fights for every inch out there," Arvidsson said. "Every puck is a war and you just battle for every inch out there. You've got to be ready for it."

So when Game 1 against Chicago arrived Thursday, in a hostile United Center, Arvidsson was ready. In the first period, he drove to the net, got a step on the defense and was in position to redirect a shot/pass from Forsberg into the net to put Nashville ahead 1-0. He almost scored again in the third period, but his backhander on a breakaway hit the post.

For those who have watched Arvidsson all season, the belief that there is more of the same to come throughout this series, and beyond, is strong.

"The sky's the limit," Fisher said Friday. "He's only going to get better."

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