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One-on-One with: Head Coach Barry Trotz

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
With training camp less than two weeks away, sat down with head coach Barry Trotz to get his thoughts on this year’s roster, his goals for training camp, and how he sees this year’s team shaping up. From an outsider’s view it seems like the roster is more in place heading into training camp this year than it was last year. Is that pretty accurate?
Coach Trotz: It probably feels that way and from that standpoint, I think we have a lot of trust in ourselves and in our judgment of our players. We saw what our players can do under real tough circumstances last year. So I think there’s more of a confidence that this group is more stable. There were a lot of unknowns last year, which is normal when you take the number of players and amount of skill out our lineup like we did. And then add the ownership situation, and all the uncertainty, and all the things that come with that uncertainty. Because of that adversity, we developed a real strong backbone. Because of how we handled things last year, we’re probably a little more reassured that this group is a pretty good hockey team. Some of the younger players seemed to settle into their roles as last season went on. Does that make it any easier this year?
Coach Trotz: I think so. Any young player – and I’ve looked at a lot of guys who have come up and down since this organization started – and a good example with a group this year is a guy like Rich Peverley. Every time he came up from Milwaukee he seemed more and more confident. A little more sure of himself. And by that he’s able to perform at the level he’s capable of performing at. I think teammates also feel more comfortable with him and what he’s capable of doing. You see a lot of that with young guys, especially when you go through a year like we did last year where there were a lot of opportunities and guys were put in bigger roles. Our guys learned to meet those challenges and the leadership stepped up. Jason Arnott took on a big role. JP Dumont, too. The Legwands, the Erats, guys like that stepped up. We did a really good job of filling the holes last year. And we just want this group to grow. There’s not going to be a lot of change. The changes we do have are going to come internally from good drafting and identifying talent and us coaches trying to develop the talent and make it work. What are you and the rest of the coaching staff looking to accomplish during training camp?
Coach Trotz: We’re trying to forge our team identity. Last year as the season went on we established that we were a real hard working team. We’ve gone through a lot of adversity in the last few years between loss of players, ownership issues. There are a lot of reasons why we could make excuses, but this team just won’t do that. I think we built a pretty strong bond last year from the group that we had. I think we’ve become really close. A couple of things that we want to accomplish during training camp.
•We want our young leadership group, our young core to really step it up this year. That will put a lot of onus on guys like David Legwand, Martin Erat, Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, that group to help guys like (Jason) Arnott and (JP) Dumont establish that real strong core in leadership that we want.
•On the ice I think we want to establish that we’re going to be extremely hard working.
•We want to establish balanced scoring options. We don’t have that pure offensive pop that other teams might have. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be able to score. We have some talent on the backend that can help us. We have contributions from the whole group right down the lineup.
•Also we’re looking to establish whether a Patric Hornqvist or Rich Peverley, young guys like that can, establish themselves and be high contributors on our team.
Fans have heard a lot the off-season about three newcomers, Hornqvist, Jones, & Pihlstrom. Can you talk about what each brings to the table and what chances they have to contribute this season? Starting with Patric Hornqvist.
Coach Trotz: Well, we really liked him at camp last year. We were trying to get him to stay and probably would have been on our hockey team last year. I watched him probably six or seven games at the World Championships. I pull the tapes of those games and watch his shifts. He reminds me a lot of a Joe Mullen-type of a player. He’s very effective. He gets open. Off the rush, he shoots the puck well. He goes to the hard areas; he’s got really good timing about getting to the scoring areas at the right time. He just doesn’t plant himself in front of the net. He’s very competitive. He’s not going to wow you with exceptional speed or hand skills, but he’ll be very consistent and he has a really good release to his shot, so I look at him as a very consistent player with a typical pro-type game. Ryan Jones
Coach Trotz: I haven’t seen him play other than some film, but from what I gather from reports of Ryan Jones, on the ice he has a little bit of an Erik Cole-type of a game. He goes to the net real hard. People that I’ve talked to from the Minnesota organization said that he’s going to score a lot of goals, but he’s not going to see a lot of his goals due to the fact that he will be getting knocked down in front of the net. He’ll hit pucks in off rebounds as he’s getting knocked down. He plays a heavy, low game. A lot of people say he’s one of the most “NHL ready” college players right now. Seeing him skate every day working out, he seems like a terrific kid. I know the people at Miami, Ohio think extremely high of him. He’s a good player and he’s going to have an impact on this organization. Antti Pihlstrom
Coach Trotz: He’s to me, a little bit of a cross between Jordin Tootoo and Scotty Nichol. He gets hits consistently like Jordin does. He stirs the pot consistently like Scotty. He’s got tremendous speed. He doesn’t get intimidated at all, he’s not a big guy, but he doesn’t get intimidated by guys playing real hard against him or going after him. He’s one of those guys that can be very frustrating to play against. He can throw people off their game. And he’ll chip in offensively, too. With all the talk about Hornqvist, Jones, & Pihlstrom, is Rich Peverley being overlooked?
Coach Trotz: I think sometimes we’ll overlook a guy like Rich Peverley until he gets here for camp and you realize, wow, he’s a good hockey player. But I think when you make a move to deal a player like Zidlicky for Jones, he’s going to come into the spotlight more, just because you’re moving an NHL player to get him. I think we’ve done a good job of identifying talent and it’s our job as an organization and as a coaching staff to develop that talent. Whether or not that talent’s going to be ready Game 1 this year is probably the unknown. But we feel pretty confident that unknowns like Jones, Hornqvist, Pihlstrom can get the job done. And we know that Richy Peverley can play. That’s a confidence thing for us; we know he can play and contribute.

We’ve added some players in similar situations as Richy – Mike Ryan from the Buffalo organization is coming in to camp, Joel Ward was signed this summer; those type of guys that being in a different situation may blossom. We’ve had success identifying those players in the past. That’s how the Vern Fiddlers, Rich Peverleys joined our organization and became contributors. A young guy like Pihlstrom who had an excellent year in Milwaukee and was real good at the World Championships. All of those guys bring something a little different and because of it, I think we’re still a real good hockey team.

Sometimes that gets overlooked. A lot of people say that Nashville didn’t go out and spend a lot in free agency. We did spend a lot in free agency; we just spent it within our own house, securing Legwand, Dumont, Erat, Suter, Weber, and all those guys. A lot of teams can’t do that because they don’t have the young talent that we have, so they go outside their organization to fill holes. We didn’t have to do that. How much better can Legwand and Erat get?
Coach Trotz: They can continue to get even better and they’re pretty good players in the league already. A lot of times now they end up against second pair defensemen and that’s where we really need them to kick it up and when maybe an Arny and JP are getting shut down, you need that second level of scoring to rise up. We don’t have those three scoring lines like we did a few years ago, so we need the production of a David Legwand or a Martin Erat to be more consistent. Improving that consistency is probably the biggest area for those guys. And then our third level of scoring is our guys in a checking role chipping in a little bit or our energy guys giving us some goals. If as a team we can do that, we’ll have success as a team.

A lot of people thought with all the removal of skill from our lineup before last season that we weren’t going to be able to score a whole lot, but we ended up scoring a lot more than people thought we would. Last season our team changed, so we had to do it a different way than we had the two previous years. We weren’t as “high octane” or have the depth of high-end talent like we did the few years prior. But what we did have was depth in terms of personnel and in people that work hard and play within a system, and people that are competitive. We just found a different way to get it done. Is it safe to say that at least on paper, the defensemen are the strength of the team?
Coach Trotz: I think our defense is the area with the highest upside in terms of where those players can get their game to. At the same time, it’s probably the deepest area of our organization. And it’s going to be the strength of our team. We’ve watched the growth of Dan Hamhuis the last couple of years. Greg deVries just consistently gets it done. Ryan Suter turned the corner last season. Suter was really good, I thought. And the last 60 games of the year he was very good. Shea Weber had an off year last season, but that was largely because of the injuries. We know where he can get to. With his character and his ability, I think Shea’s going to have a real good year. Ville Koistinen, I think, is going to do a real good job on our power-play. By playing more regularly, I think Ville’s going to have a real big impact for us. He skates so well, moves the puck well. Greg Zanon doesn’t get enough credit for the stuff he does. He does a lot of the hard things, blocking shots, provides really good leadership, plays the game smart. You win with guys like that. And Kevin Klein’s going to get more of an opportunity than he did last year and we think he can be a real solid defenseman. Then we have guys like Sulzer, Franson, Laakso, and Dietrich who are coming to camp; Jon Blum our first pick from two years ago. We have tremendous depth in that area. No matter what happens in the next 10 years, defense is going to be a constant here in Nashville. Kevin Klein’s a player you and the coaching staff have talked very highly about. Where does he fit into the equation this season?
Coach Trotz: Kevin’s as strong as an ox; he has NHL strength and he handles weight really well. He’s a great skater. He can get up ice as well as any body. He likes to join the play. If you look at the game right now, its about skating and defense joining the play. Kevin has those abilities without sacrificing strength. All those things are really good qualities. That’s why we think so highly of him.

I think his situation last year was a numbers thing. Kevin is a guy we see as filling more of a defensive role; he’s in that Hamhuis, de Vries, Zanon type of group. In training camp last year, the guys he would need to replace in the lineup, we just felt he didn’t get there. And then we started the regular season and we’re playing games that count. On top of that there really weren’t any injuries or poor play from that group. So Kevin sort of got locked into that eighth slot last season, but at the same time he knows he has the talent to be right there with the others. It probably says more about the others we have on our roster than it does about Kevin. But I thought when he did play last season, Kevin played very well for us.

 Playing is always better, but there is something you can learn even when you’re not playing. When you watch the game, sometimes, you see things from up top (in the press box) and see how plays develop. The game slows down up there and you can really see the mistakes and successes of different defensemen. I think sitting last year may have helped him. This summer we traded one of the guys ahead of him, in Marek (Zidlicky), which opens up the opportunity for Kevin to play more regularly this season. You mentioned Blum, Dietrich, Franson, Laakso, Sulzer. With seven defensemen returning from last season’s roster, at least on paper, it would seem unlikely that any of them would be able to win an NHL spot out of camp?
Coach Trotz: You come in to training camp every year and there are some open spots. Like this year among our forwards there are some definite openings. This year on the back end there may not be as much of a chance to make the team, but what each of them needs to do is come in and impress and put himself in a ranking order. That’s what we need to stress to those guys.

If one of them can put himself in a ranking order where as coaches we’re feeling that “Player A” is just as good as any one of our seven guys here at the NHL level, that really gives us a lot of flexibility. At the least it means he’s probably the first guy getting called up if we need someone later in the season. That’s why training camp is real important for those guys. If a young prospect can come in and impress during training camp, even if he doesn’t play on our team initially, he’s set himself up in the minds of us coaches to be the first guy up.

That’s really what we’re looking to get across to those guys. I don’t think we’re going to have to hurry a Jon Blum or a Cody Franson, just because of our depth. We allow them to have a lot of success and come along gradually, which I think is the best way to do things. You see it in organizations that have been traditionally strong. Detroit doesn’t hurry their guys. New Jersey doesn’t hurry their guys up. And those teams have been very consistent over the last decade. On defense, it’s going to be really difficult for a Cody Franson, Jon Blum, Dietrich, Laakso, Sulzer, those guys to be right on our top-seven, but if they can really impress … it really will open our eyes to getting guys on the team.

 It’s no different than in goal last season. Our goaltenders were Chris Mason and Pekka Rinne. Dan Ellis was going to be our Milwaukee goaltender. He came in and impressed and we found a way to get Danny Ellis on our hockey team. We don’t want players in our organization who when they face a little adversity say, “well I’m going to quit because it’s going to be tough.” This is a tough game, so it’s tough to get here. If you get a guy who can fight through that, you’re going to get a better quality person and a player who has a better chance to be successful in this league. Is it pretty safe to say you are going to open the season with Ellis and Rinne as your top two goaltenders?
Coach Trotz: I would say that. And that’s no disrespect to MacIntyre or Dekanich, Pickard, Smith. Danny (Ellis) won the job last year. Pekka (Rinne) has been an All-Star in the AHL for the last few years. I think our confidence in our goaltending is extremely high. We don’t have any reservations about our goaltending this year. We probably have less reservations this year than we did at this point last year. We’ve seen what these guys can do, we’ve got confidence in them. Dan Ellis is one of the top puck moving goaltenders in the league. How much does that really help the skaters in front of him? How much does that change the way you guys can play?
Coach Trotz: It’s really big. We saw it last year. No disrespect to the goaltenders we had recently in Mason and Vokoun, but they weren’t as good handling the puck. And it does make a big difference for the game right now, especially against teams that give you a lot of pressure. To have a goalie that moves the puck well, it adds another dimension for us back there. If we get in a little bit of trouble, our defense knows that both Dan and Pekka move the puck extremely well. That’s huge. I think in the past with some of our exchanges there was some miscommunication, especially times when teams would get their first forechecker in deep. Every body else ended up playing that way. With guys who can move the puck like Dan and Pekka, they actually move with purpose and confidence to certain areas and it allows us to break the puck out of our zone a lot easier. Plus, I can tell you it sure saves a lot of ware and tear physically and mentally for the defensemen back there. So it really is an under-rated difference. How much confidence did you coaches and the players in the locker room gain with Pekka based on his performances in practice at the end of last season?
Coach Trotz: I think the players recognized his talent. If you talk to our players, especially the veteran players who have a lot of influence in how a goaltender is perceived, a guy like JP Dumont, or Jason Arnott, or David Legwand, Martin Erat, they will all tell you to a man that Pekka is very hard to score on. He has just massive size, pure size. It just makes it hard to see the net. Plus he’s tremendously athletic and competitive. The veterans feel very comfortable that Pekka’s ready to step in. So, Pekka proved a lot in his time with us at the end of the season.

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