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Ribeiro Meets Offseason Challenge Head On

Forward Focused on Defense, Faceoffs During Summer

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis /

A Game Seven loss in mid-May to the San Jose Sharks stung a little more for Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro. He wanted to do more. He should have done more.

A healthy scratch in Games Three and Four of the Round Two series, the veteran center's furthest trip into the postseason in eight years didn't go how it was supposed to. Didn't go how he wanted it to.

Two points in 12 playoff games in 2016 were the numbers suddenly being used to define Ribeiro's season. Not the 50 he recorded in 81 regular-season games, good for the third-highest total by a Preds forward, and the 10th occasion in his 18-year career he'd hit at least the half-century mark. But the Montreal native knew he'd overcome the sudden spiral in his career, because that's what his career was. Too small to play in the NHL, too one-dimensional to consistently produce, too old to still compete. He'd heard them all before, and he'd challenged the narrative forced upon himself every time.

That's why even in the moments after the handshake line in San Jose, Ribeiro resolved it was time to respond to the next challenge, and at 36 years old and over 1,000 games logged in the League, this encore would perhaps be his best.

A week later, Nashville General Manager David Poile said what Ribeiro knew already to be true: It was going to take, "the summer of his life to regain his position back on the top two lines."

So that's what he did.

He started focusing on the not-so-flashy parts of his job during the offseason. He took more faceoffs. He shot more. He took to the ice in Nashville weeks before training camp.

"I'm focusing on training camp and going from there. This is 18 training camps now for me, and 18 years. There's always someone doubting or not so sure, so I'm really focusing on myself and getting ready for the season," Ribeiro said Friday at the start of his third camp with Nashville. "That's always my goal, to have a better season than the last year."

Even nearing the two-decade time frame in hockey's toughest league, the most important metric for forwards - points - is still near the top for Ribeiro; 43 assists in 2015-16 placed him tied for 23rd overall in the NHL. For Ribeiro, he says this season will be more about rounding out the rest of his on-ice product - defensively and at the face-off dot.

Video: NSH@DAL: Ribeiro finds Smith for backhand goal

"I'm positive I can still put up 50 points this year. Scoring [goals] a little bit more or shooting a little bit more, better on my faceoffs, that's where I'm always trying to get better," he said. "There's no doubt I can still pass the puck, so I'm not going to worry about it, it's more playing better in different situations and getting better on my faceoffs and defensively. I just want to have a strong year and help the team win some games and make the playoffs."

Again, it helps that the Preds center has made this kind of transition before. With the League doubling down on its value of speed, and Poile saying the Predators are following suit, another transformation in the NHL is the third or fourth one seen by Ribeiro.

"You have to adjust to systems, adjust to the League; the League changes every five years," Ribeiro said. "A lot of guys always say that your mind is what drives you, and learning the game, still learning the game and getting tips from the coach and learning it. If your mind is still young, I think you can still play. Obviously, physically, you need to do better and be more aware of what you put in your body and your rest and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, it's your mind that's making your feet move.

"I wasn't supposed to play in the League because I wasn't fast enough 20 years ago, so it's once again my mind that will have to help me positioning wise. There's a lot of video that you can learn from and find your ice time, find where the time and space will be and I'll use my mind to create my speed. If they want [our defensemen] to join the rush then I'll be able to find them a little bit more than I did in the past. It's really to be free of my mind and really be happy and go out there and play hockey."

Video: ARI@NSH: Ribeiro steals the puck and beats Smith

The intentional work has been put in during the summer months, and the rubber is meeting the road for Ribeiro with training camp taking off. The early returns have been favorable.

"I'm hoping that Mike had a good summer of training, and just by what we're seeing, he's in shape, he's ready to play. Mike is a really skilled player, he's a real talent on the ice," Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said this week. "Two years ago, he was right up there in the scoring, this year he was top four or five for our forwards in scoring, he's able to create and help others be better hockey players, and we need Mike to jump right into camp and get going."

"It's hard to evaluate until you really start playing and really feel it where you're at, but I feel great," Ribeiro said. It's 18 training camps that people doubt and question, and it's fine with me, I'm really focused on me and what I have to do to help the team win some games."

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