Veteran Olli Jokinen leaned over and told Eric Nystrom to tell the truth about teammate Gabriel Bourque. Assuming Nystrom listened, Bourque should be quite pleased with the marks he received.
The temptation for Nystrom to deviate from the facts about the 24-year-old winger couldn’t have been overly strong, however; Bourque has been a solid contributor to the Nashville Predators since re-entering the club’s lineup this month, and his teammates are taking notice.
After remaining out of the Preds starting group for three weeks, Bourque has found a niche in Nashville’s forward group by honing in on his particular style of play.
“You want to have a staple in your game; you want to be known for something that you do well, night in and night out,” Nystrom said. “Bourque has brought a lot of energy and a physical presence. He’s just been so solid. It’s great to play with a guy that isn’t afraid to go after and fight for the puck.”
Previously the sarcastic critic of Bourque, Jokinen also echoed the complimentary remarks of his linemate.
“You know what Bourque is going to bring every night; he brings energy,” Jokinen said. “When the puck is in his corner, then you know he’s going to go after it hard on the forecheck. He’s a very easy player to play with, he brings 100 percent every [game] and practice...Between his good games and bad games, the gap is not big. He’s got a very good way of contributing.”
Fanfare doesn’t usually follow quality play by a team’s fourth line; instead, the focus goes to the club’s overall success in a game as the unit pushes the entire squad ahead. The Preds have gone 5-2-0 since Bourque returned to the lineup and the Rimouski, Quebec, native has also added three points (including the primary assist on Filip Forsberg’s game-winner against the Avalanche).
“[The] guys have done a good job of jumping into the roles that we’ve asked of them,” Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said earlier this month. “Bourque, for instance, is working extremely hard, he’s on the puck and he’s generating some offense for us. He’s bringing the energy to the lineup like he can, and it’s great when a guy can jump back in the lineup and be a contributing factor.”
“I’ve tried to work hard all year at bringing a consistent and physical game,” Bourque said last week. “When a team can have their third and fourth line guys contributing in the right areas then that can be a huge [benefit] to the entire team...I’ve been working on that more and more.”
A key part of Bourque once again becoming a helpful piece in Nashville’s lineup originated from the forward developing his game to fit better under Laviolette’s system. The winger began the season skating on the Preds first line before seeing his minutes drop. Since then he’s tried to remold his playing style to work under the new coach’s expectations.
“It took a little while earlier in the season to understand my role completely,” Bourque said. “I need to be a strong, two-way player, bring energy, finish my hits and take the puck to the net. Honestly, playing simple is the big thing.”
Bourque’s willingness to instill a hard forecheck and push back the opposition creates more space on the ice for his linemates, while in-turn slowing the attack of another team’s offense.
“I like to bring energy to the ice and help that overflow into offense for the boys and strong play by the [team],” Bourque said. “I also try to play well defensively, especially on the road because we go up against top lines. If our [opponent] tries to put their best line out against us, then [my line] makes sure we’re ready.”
Nystrom says he’s seen Bourque develop his brand of play this season and thinks that’s vital, not just for the young forward, but for the success of the entire team.
“I think that’s what most NHL players do; they find an element in the game that they excel in and they work on consistently playing well in that one area,” Nystrom said. “I think that’s what makes a team. You have guys that take care of certain parts of the game and when you have all those covered, that’s what makes a successful hockey team.”
Progress and wins by the Preds is what Bourque wants to see most of all, and he’s reworked his contribution in recent games to give just that.
“I think it’s important for everyone to know their role on the team,” Bourque said. “If you take your role seriously, then that will keep you in the lineup and [boost] the club. If guys understand what their line is supposed to contribute and they do that, then that’s what it takes to pile up wins.”