When Ryan Hartman sat down for his exit meeting in May, just days after the Predators had seen their season come to an end, one thing was made very clear - come October, the 23-year-old winger will be given every opportunity to succeed.
It was exactly what Hartman wanted to hear; and on Monday, Predators General Manager David Poile backed up that statement by signing the 2018 Trade Deadline acquisition to a one-year deal worth $875,000.
Recovering well from offseason-shoulder surgery, Hartman is aiming to be ready to go by Opening Night on Oct. 4 at Madison Square Garden, the start of a 2018-19 season he hopes will be his best yet.
"When you hear [the challenge and the opportunity from Peter Laviolette and David Poile], it gives you motivation throughout the summer to make sure you're coming into camp ready to go and coming in at full speed," Hartman said. "From the day I got traded, I knew Nashville was a place I wanted to be. It's a great city and we've got a heck of a team, so I'm really excited to be coming back."
Hartman made quite the first impression when he scored the game-winning goal in his Predators debut on Feb. 27, a crazy contest that turned into a 6-5 victory for his new club. It was earlier that same day the Preds organization made quite the impression on Hartman, right from the moment he was introduced to his first new teammate.
He spoke of the closeness of the group on that day, and it came up again on Monday, just the latest member of the Predators roster to confirm the desire to keep the band together for another chance.
"When I first came into the locker room, just how welcoming everyone was and how tight the group was, I noticed it the first 10 minutes," Hartman said. "Sometimes teams, they don't have as much success as they want to or are expected to and changes are made, but obviously, with this group, we don't want changes. We want this team, and we know this team has the tools to win a Stanley Cup."
Hartman figures to play the role of Swiss Army knife in that toolbox, a player who is capable of succeeding up and down the lineup. Whether it's the power play, penalty kill, final minute of a game - Hartman is eager to prove he deserves a shot in every situation.
The way he sees it, once he earns those chances, his effectiveness will only flourish.
"I've done it before, and I feel like I'm at my best when I'm playing those types of minutes," Hartman said. "I like to be relied on, too. I like to be a guy that can go out there and change the game and help the team win games. I take pride in being a utility guy and a guy that can kind of play in every situation, those key moments of games."
Hartman says his shoulder is healing well, with his sling being out of the picture for the past three weeks. He's not quite to the point of shooting the puck just yet, but he figures to be ready for full contact once training camp arrives in mid-September before getting back into game shape ahead of the opening of the regular season.
And while he's been training this summer, there's been a pair of thoughts in his head, driving him to be better than ever before.
One is the opportunity he knows is coming from the coaching staff, but the other involves something he watched on television a month earlier, wishing he was in that moment instead.
"Just thinking of the Cup, I can guarantee that's what everyone's seeing when they're in their weightroom this summer and when they're out there skating," Hartman said. "You see the happiness and the joy of Washington and what they did and how good it feels to be a champion, and I think a lot of guys have used that as motivation this summer."
When the puck drops in October, a 24-year-old Hartman will do everything in his power to ensure he makes the most of his opening. As Poile and Laviolette have stated, the cupboard is wide open.
"I'm ready to take the next step in the organization, as well as my career," Hartman said. "I'm really excited to get the season started. It feels like we've been off for a long time now, so I'm ready to get going."