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Shea Weber set for Canadiens debut

Defenseman brings different presence after trade from Predators

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

BROSSARD, Quebec -- At first, Shea Weber thought the question was about the wrong sport.

When asked Tuesday whether or not he would be watching his former team, the Nashville Predators, play their first game since they traded him to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban, Weber didn't quite understand the question.

"Oh Nashville," he responded. "I thought you said the Nationals."

No, Shea.

Not Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals, the Nashville Predators, the team you once captained, the one you spent the first 11 seasons of your career with.

"To be honest with you, I didn't even know when they were playing," Weber said. "I'll continue to talk to those guys, they're my friends, but for the most part I'm going to focus on what we've got to take care of here."

Video: Weber vs. Subban in 16-17

It is safe to say Weber has moved on from the trade and is entirely focused on his new life with the Canadiens, a chapter that will begin Thursday when he plays his first regular season game for Montreal against the Buffalo Sabres at Key Bank Center (7 p.m. ET; SN360, MSG-B, RDS).

"Obviously my first game [with the Canadiens] was the exhibition game there, and it felt good to be out here with these guys," Weber said. "We're going to keep building as the year goes on and keep getting better.

"We're going to become what we want to be."

Weber is going to play a big role in helping the Canadiens become what general manager Marc Bergevin envisioned when he decided to trade Subban to Nashville on June 29. He wants a team that is tough to play against, one with solid leadership, two things embodied in Weber.

But something else Weber brings to the Canadiens is harder to pin down, an intimidation factor that is somewhat unique to him.

"I don't think intimidating is what it used to be in the (19)80s, it's different now," Bergevin said. "It's just having a presence. Having a guy that makes you pay the price. So if you're going to go to the net, you're going to pay a price.

"And a lot of guys don't like to pay a price."

Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty got a unique introduction to Weber's ability to intimidate an opponent during the World Cup of Hockey 2016 last month.

Pacioretty was waiting for the elevator at his hotel in Columbus, on his way to Nationwide Arena for Team USA's first pretournament game against Team Canada on Sept. 9.

To his surprise, when the elevator doors opened, standing in there alone was Weber, Pacioretty's new teammate with the Canadiens, but his adversary that night. Pacioretty quickly realized that, for the meantime, they were not teammates.

Video: TOR@MTL: Weber finds back of the net from blue line

"He was in game mode, and obviously I've known him for a couple of weeks now, but I'd never seen him in game mode. He's a scary guy," Pacioretty said during the World Cup. "Even during the anthems, you look over at him and he's a scary guy. He has a presence. He's intimidating."

There's that word again, presence, one used over and over again to describe Weber and his impact on a team. No one can quite put their finger on what that presence is, but it is there.

Pacioretty is happy he will be on the right side of what he felt in that elevator in Columbus and not have to worry about facing it again.

"The thing is I know guys have that feeling, because everyone at the World Cup obviously asked me about the trade because it was such a hot topic, and every single person I talked to about it said he's the hardest person to play against in the League," Pacioretty said. "How do you measure that? I mean, we were talking about analytics-wise. But it does have a mental effect on the team that you're playing."

There is a tangible benefit for the Canadiens as well, because Weber's presence might ensure opposing forwards do not venture too close to goaltender Carey Price, Montreal's best player and most valuable asset.

We will have to wait for Price's season debut while he recovers from a flu bug that will keep him out of the game in Buffalo. But once he returns and you combine his ability to intimidate shooters into missing the net, something opposing players have admitted to in the past, with Weber's ability to intimidate them from even approaching the net, it could make for a very effective combination.

"Between these two guys, I think they play a huge factor in intimidating the opponent," Pacioretty said. "I know that people are probably going to read that and roll their eyes and think it doesn't have an effect. But I know it does. People want honesty? That's honesty."

Weber's arrival was met largely with sadness in Montreal because of the popularity of Subban, his personality, his philanthropy, his love of the city and his ability to bring fans out of their seats at Bell Centre with his electrifying play.

But Weber is one piece of a drastically changed Canadiens team, one that includes new forwards Andrew Shaw and Alexander Radulov and, for now, the enticing talent of 18-year-old rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.

If Weber can help make the Canadiens a winning team with his defensive play, his ability to score goals with his booming slap shot, his "presence," fans will likely forget the trade that made them so sad in June a lot sooner.

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