At 38 years of age, Nashville Predators forward Matt Cullen finds himself in the midst of his 17th NHL season. Plenty of former NHLers have called it quits by that time. But age is just a number, right?
It doesn’t seem to mean much to the man who is skating with his seventh NHL franchise. In fact, Cullen is set to become the oldest player in Predators history in just a few days. And with five points (2g-3a) in eight games this season, the veteran is contributing in more ways than one to his club’s strong showing thus far.
“We’ve been playing some really good hockey,” Cullen said. “Even the games that we’ve lost, I think that we’ve played well. We have a really hard-working group. We get up and down the ice pretty well and put a lot of pressure on teams. We’re giving ourselves a chance to win every night.”
Cullen is a few years removed from his NHL debut in October of 1997 with Anaheim. The game has changed plenty since, but he’s found ways to adapt on and off the ice. In 16 previous seasons, Cullen has recorded less than 25 points just once and has reached the 30-plus point plateau 12 times.
Cullen’s teammates are well aware of his resume. It provides all the more reason for the Preds younger players to take note of what No. 7 does so well.
“I try and take as much as I can from [Cullen] every day off the ice or on the ice,” Preds forward Taylor Beck said. “He’s been in the League a long time for a reason. He knows how to be successful and whether we take away something he does in practice or watching him in the game every shift, it’s great for me being a young guy to look up to him.”
“I try to stay away from those young guys, they bug me,” Cullen joked. “No, you just do what you can as an older guy. Regardless of any situation, you can offer advice or be there for a guy. We’ve all had guys that helped us along the way, so you try to keep that going and help out. We have a lot of young guys playing some very important roles on our team, so it’s important that as older guys, we’re there to help them along any way we can.”
And it’s not just the budding NHLers that look up to Cullen. Forward Derek Roy, in his 11th season in the League, believes that no matter the age, everyone in the Preds room can learn something from the Minnesota native.
“He prepares himself very well, and he works hard in practice and in games, trying to get better every day,” Roy said. “He’s a leader, he’s won a Stanley Cup and he’s one of the guys that everyone looks up to. It doesn’t matter what age you are, you can always learn [from someone like Cullen].”
Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette won that Stanley Cup with Cullen with the Hurricanes back in 2006. Almost 10 years later, Nashville’s bench boss believes that everyone benefits from having that presence in the room.
“Matt brings a lot of experience,” Laviolette said. “He’s jumped in, and he’s provided offense for us since coming back into the lineup [from an early-season injury]. I think he’s a guy that we count on because of his experience. We’ve got a lot of young players in that locker room… A guy like Matt, his experience off the ice and his play on the ice, is something [important] for our young players.”
At this point in his career, Cullen is well aware of what makes a team click. With the Preds holding a 10-4-2 record, he’s certainly seeing those imperative qualities on the Nashville bench.
“We have a good team,” Cullen said. “We’re starting to build [confidence], and I think we’re starting to see that. Our confidence in knowing what we need to do each night to give ourselves a chance to win is growing, and at this point in the season, that’s what you want.”
So the 38-year-old, in the midst of season No. 17, continues to do his thing. But over time, he’s learned what’s most important at this level. It’s something that the Preds are doing with regularity thus far.
“It’s fun, you want to win, and as you get older, you understand that the only thing that really matters is winning,” Cullen said. “When you get to this point, you treasure the times that you’re winning and playing well.”