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After Realizing His NHL Dreams, Nichol Helps Preds Prospects Find Theirs

Former Player Now Embraces Role as Director of Player Development to Find Future Preds

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

The man they call "Scooter" would have suggested a different moniker.

"I always thought maybe 'Pitbull' would be a better nickname, but it never really stuck with me," Predators Director of Player Development and Milwaukee Admirals General Manager Scott Nichol joked. "Maybe just because I scooted around, or maybe because I scooted behind [bigger, tougher players] when things got a little hairy."

Whatever the origin, it worked out just fine for Nichol, who carved out a career that spanned 13 seasons and 662 games in the NHL, including four campaigns in Nashville during his prime as a player.

Once his playing days were done, Nichol moved back to Tennessee and upstairs to the front office with the Preds - the NHL organization where he spent the most time during his career in the League.

Nichol touched on that and more with Voice of the Preds Pete Weber on a recent edition of Fifth Third Bank's Hockey at Home, and the former centerman-turned-manager had plenty to discuss from his time spent in the game thus far.

The journey began for Nichol in his hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and his talent took him to the Western Hockey League as a teenager. He was a 40-goal scorer with the Portland Winterhawks during the 1993-94 season, but once Nichol turned pro in the Buffalo Sabres organization, there was a realization his game would need to adapt to stick around.

"I'm 5-foot-8, 160 pounds going to Rochester, New York [in the American Hockey League] and playing against men who are 30 years old who have beards and have kids," Nichol said. "You're just in survival mode…and at my first training camp, I see these guys buzzing around and they're 6-foot-3 and they could skate like the wind. If I played in the NHL, I don't have that kind of skill set…so I just had to morph my game into being energy guy, tenacious, getting on loose pucks, maybe fight once in a while, be the first guy over the boards on the penalty kill and just be great in the face-off circle."

Nichol did all that and more, and after grinding away - mostly in the AHL - for the rest of the decade, he got his first full-time shot in the NHL with his hometown team in Calgary. After two campaigns with the Flames and another stop in Chicago, the Predators came calling to start the 2005-06 season. Nichol filled his role to perfection in Nashville over the next four campaigns, eventually finishing with 24 goals, 47 points and 271 penalty minutes during the course of 209 games in a Predators uniform.

"I ended up playing four years in Nashville, and it was great," Nichol said. "We had great teams, and too bad Detroit was so good at that time as well, but man it was fun. We had superstars on our team. Like I look at our team now, we could almost play in this era. We had Steve Sullivan who could skate, Paul Kariya who could skate, we were a smaller team in that era, but we were quick, and it was a fun team to play for."

Nichol then suited up for the Sharks and Blues in a pair of seasons each before his NHL career came to a close, and it wasn't long after when a familiar name gave him a ring.

"[After my team lost in the playoffs in 2013], David Poile called and he's like, 'Scotty, are you ever going to retire?' And I'm like, 'Maybe, what do you got for me?'" Nichol recalled. "He's like, 'Well, we've got a player development role for you.' And I'm like, 'OK, well let me think about it.' I had a sports hernia at the time, and I got a puck in the face, so I had two surgeries, one on Monday and one on Tuesday.'

"They rolled me off the gurney… and I said 'Yeah, David, I'd love to be a part of the Preds.' He's like, 'OK, can you be here on Friday?' I'm like, 'Well I just had two surgeries, give me just a little time and I'll come in.'"

Nichol reported to Nashville as soon as he was able, and he quickly embraced his new role in player development and working with the organization's top prospects to help them realize their NHL potential.

Former NHL defenseman Wade Redden joined Nichol a few summers ago to assist in the processes, and once he moved on, former NHL blueliner Rob Scuderi and former Preds forward Sebastian Bordeleau stepped in to round out Nichol's development team.

"It's a really good tandem where you got [Scuderi] as a steady defenseman and [Bordeleau] as your high-strung kind of goal-scorer who loves and is passionate about the game, and we really mold and bring all the guys together," Nichol said. "We tag team all the prospects, and we have a good experience for them."

Part of that teamwork was on display in Milwaukee, Nashville's AHL affiliate, also managed by Nichol. The Admirals were the best team in the AHL last season, surpassing franchise records and showing off the incredible depth in the Predators organization.

Milwaukee's season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Nichol is still proud of his club's accomplishments and remains optimistic for what's next for the affiliate.

"We had a really good run, and the best thing is we still have a lot of the guys coming back," Nichol said of the Ads. "We've instilled a great culture there, and I think we're a little bit of a throwback, old-school team. We like to get after it, and we've got probably four or five guys that don't shy away from the physicality. What I love about it is we play any style… Everybody was disappointed because you don't get a chance to build those teams too often like that, especially in the minor-league level, but we've got a lot of guys coming back next year. A lot of guys will fight for spots up here too, so we'll see how it goes.

"It's a great culture there, and we've got to keep developing our guys. We don't want to keep them in Milwaukee, we'll want them to get into Nashville and help out the Preds. Like they say, the road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee."

With stops in Nashville on the ice and in the press box, Nichol is also one of the few who have played for, and now worked for, the winningest general manager in NHL history. So, what's it like to be around someone like Poile in different capacities? Pretty great, as one might imagine.

"David's been fantastic for me," Nichol said of Poile. "As a player, he always treats everybody very fairly, and he always builds good teams and always treats everyone great. Now, just working for him, he's very organized, he's got a plan and he's very inclusive on all his decisions. That's what I like - you have a voice, and there isn't a wrong answer… [He lets everyone have their] opinions, and at the end of the day, he has to make the hard choices, which he's great at doing."

Like many in the hockey world, Nichol wasn't necessarily wondering what was next for him following his playing career as he was settling in to take a faceoff. But eventually, he began to realize he might have a knack for helping the next generation live out their dreams just as he did.

Those aspirations drove him as a player, and in some ways, they're even stronger now. And if Nichol's work ethic on the ice was in any way indicative of how much care he now puts into things off of it, the prospects are in good hands.

"It's been a great transition, and I've really enjoyed my time as a player in this organization and I enjoy my time as, I guess, management," Nichol said. "It seems weird to say 'management' because I played so long, but it's the greatest job in the greatest sport with the best people. I've made so many lifelong friends through this sport, so I'm just thankful that I get to do this on a daily basis."

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