NASHVILLE -- Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber was not a happy man at the end of the 2013-14 regular season.
His team had just missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in his career, and the only NHL coach he'd ever known, Barry Trotz, was fired after the season.
"We've got to get back to the postseason," Weber said. "Two years in a row is unacceptable. We know that. We're not an expansion franchise anymore."
Weber has led the Predators back to the playoffs this season and is looking to make a deeper run toward the Stanley Cup than ever before. He's the leader of one of the deepest defense corps in the NHL and believes that depth can be an advantage in the postseason.
"I think that's what's helped us along the way," Weber said. "You're not going to stay healthy all year. For guys to be able to step up when guys go out, it just shows how much depth we have this year."
The Predators have never made it past the second round and have won two rounds in seven playoff appearances. They're one of the biggest surprises in the League this season, but things start anew in the postseason.
Nashville is going to rely on Weber's leadership during its playoff run, but his young defense partner Roman Josi has taken major steps this season to become an elite defenseman. Josi has played alongside Weber on Nashville's top defense pairing for three seasons and credits Weber's leadership for helping his development.
Josi played 10 playoff games in his only postseason appearance during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Weber has been in the playoffs six times and leads Nashville's younger, less experienced players by example.
"Shea is one of those guys who does everything for the team," Josi said. "He works so hard every game, and that's why he's a great captain. He does it all for the team and he's always team first so it's great to see him back in the playoffs, and he's obviously a huge part of that. He's been a great leader, even the last two years when we didn't make it he's been great, so he's been great this year too."
The Predators have a lot of younger players who will be getting a taste of the playoffs for the first time. They have seven players who are 24 years old or younger and eight players who will be playing for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Weber and other veterans on the team have talked to the younger players about the playoffs, but Weber knows firsthand experience will be the only way for them to truly know what it's like.
"Experience is invaluable, "Weber said. "You can say as much as you want to these kids, but until you actually go through it you don't really know what it's like. You hear stuff but until you experience it, especially when you get to the playoffs, once you experience your first playoff game you realize it's going to be fun.
"It's an exciting time of the year as a young player, as all of us, we look forward to these challenges and competing against the best in the world coming forward here."
Nashville rookie forward Filip Forsberg has been one of the team's most consistent forwards all season. Forsberg, 20, is one of those Nashville players getting a first shot at the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Weber feels like Forsberg's experience in other big tournaments can serve him well.
"He's been through different things, whether it's international competition or in the Swedish League playing in big games," Weber said. "Those experiences will be valuable for him and hopefully for him being successful at this level over here."
Weber is a three-time Norris Trophy nominee and a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada. He's played in big games throughout his career, but the challenge of leading this youthful Nashville team through the playoffs will be something new for him.
Nashville has a Stanley Cup winning coach in Peter Laviolette, and has veteran forwards like Matt Cullen, Mike Fisher and James Neal who have made deep playoff runs in their careers. However, Weber is the undisputed leader of the team, and his leadership will have to play a pivotal role if Nashville is going to make a deep run in the playoffs for the first time.