When Pittsburgh acquired Nick Spaling from Nashville back in June, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said one of the things he liked the most about the young forward was that he had character and was a good dressing room guy.
His Penguins teammates agree.
“He’s just a solid teammate,” linemate Zach Sill said. “He’s just a good guy to have around and he’s always in a good mood too, so that always brings a little light to the dressing room. Great locker room guy.”
Joked Sill, “I’m pumping his tires a little too much here, but he is. He’s always optimistic on the bench. He’s a funny guy; he works well with everybody here. He’s been a good fit.”
Before the trade, Spaling had been with the Predators since they drafted him in the second round (58th overall) in 2007. This marks his first time adjusting to new surroundings, and so far, he said it helps that everyone else is going through a transition as well with the changes to the coaching staff.
“It’s been good,” Spaling said. “I didn’t know what to expect with it being the first time, but they’ve made it a real easy, real comfortable transition, which is always nice.”
“I think all the guys who have come in, especially ‘Spaller,’ have fit in really nicely,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think it’s helped that it’s a lot of new things for so many guys, whether it’s a new team, or for the guys that have been here, it’s a new coaching staff, so everyone’s kind of going through all that together and I’m sure that’s helped the transition. He’s one of the many good acquisitions for us.”
It also helped that Spaling came to Pittsburgh with Patric Hornqvist, someone he knows very well as they were teammates for the last six seasons with both the Predators and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
There were also a few more familiar faces in Robert Bortuzzo and Steve Downie (the three of them were teammates with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League in 2007-08) and Marcel Goc (they played together in Nashville from 2009-11.
“I think that made it easier coming in. You knew that one person (Hornqvist) right away,” Spaling said. “I knew Bortuzzo as well, and Goc and Downie actually. So it was nice to know a few friendly faces.”
On the ice, Spaling is a guy who can play all three forward positions – and right now, head coach Mike Johnston has him centering the fourth line between Sill and Craig Adams. Through the first two games, Spaling has won 60 percent of his faceoffs (14-of-23) while seeing time on the penalty kill.
“He’s a real versatile player,” Johnston said. “I had him on right wing, left wing, center (in the preseason). He’s very good on faceoffs as well. He’s not a guy that sometimes plays center and struggles with draws. He’s very good in the faceoff circle. His versatility and penalty killing ability, he’s a guy that you can move throughout your lineup.”
Spaling, who turned 26 on Sept. 19, is expected to play his 300th career NHL game when the Penguins host Dallas on Thursday.
“It goes fast. It’s crazy,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like (it’s been 300 games), but it’s obviously exciting. It’s something I wouldn’t have thought about as a kid. It’s a lot of games so far but I’m hoping there’s a lot more to come.”