Predators Director of Player Development and Milwaukee Admirals General Manager Scott Nichol joined the Predators Official Podcast to talk expectations for recently signed forward Rem Pitlick and defenseman Dante Fabbro, saying he expects great things from both rookies.
For Fabbro, who set career highs in points (33) and assists (26) with Boston University during his junior season in 2018-19, now was the perfect time to jump into the NHL. Choosing to forego his senior season, Fabbro signed a three-year, entry level contract with the Preds.
To Nichol, the experience Fabbro gained in his final season with the Terriers was invaluable to his transition into the NHL.
"With Dante, it was time for him - he went back to school last year and was the captain of their team, and it actually was the best thing for him to go back, just the leadership quality. He was never really put in that situation, to be the guy and lead that team, and Boston University had a tough start. And it was hard on him. He didn't know what leader he was going to be, and it brought him out, got him of his comfort zone - it was his team," Nichol said. "The way that he played down the stretch and how he carried himself, the team kind of adopted that: his personality and his style.
"At the beginning of the year, they were a bunch of young kids coming out of the program and they were kind of all over the place. I think just his calming demeanor and the way he plays the game and plays a ton of minutes really helped the team, and it also really helped him grow as a person and a player."
Pitlick also joined the Predators after concluding his junior season with the University of Minnesota. He ended his career as a Golden Gopher with career highs in goals (21), assists (24) and points (45) and a nomination for the 2019 Hobey Baker Award.
"Pitlick plays fast, he does everything at top speed," Nichol said. "He's got a great shot, sees the ice very well, played in every situation in college. He played wing for two years and played center this year, and I think his game really matured from there, just being up the middle and supporting the puck all over the ice.
"He had a lot of responsibilities - he was already a responsible player, but this really magnified it because he was playing center and he was playing probably 20 minutes every night. It was a great year for Rem, everything he shot went in and he made nice plays; he played with guys on his line that complemented his style, with how much speed and pace that he plays with."
As director of player development, Nichol knows that crossing over from collegiate to professional-level hockey is no easy task - but the regimen of development and training camps helps make the transition easier.
"It's the National Hockey League, it's the best league in the world and it is a big step for these kids to come in, but I think that's why we have them in development camps. They've been at three different development camps, both these guys. So they know the staff, they know the medical, the equipment guys, the coaching staff. So they're coming in and they're already a little bit familiar, it's not like they're dipping their toe in and then they're in," Nichol said. "So that's what development camp is for, we teach them our way, our system, how we want to develop these kids. So they're part of our culture already, even though they're playing for a different school and not our team."
In addition to that initial experience, Nichol also commented on the selflessness of team veterans, and the effort they make to teach and bring younger players into the fray.
"That's the best quality of our group in Nashville. We have really good players and we have even better people. These veteran guys, it's not like the old days where they wouldn't talk to you, these guys welcome these kids in," Nichol said. "I know that's one of the biggest fears they have coming out of college. It's like, 'how am I going to be accepted into an NHL dressing room?' And I think you saw a little bit of that with Rem when he got his game puck."
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A big part of the development process for the Predators also relies on establishing good relationships with new players, and working with them on an individualized level. For Nichol, building years-long relationships with several of Nashville's now-veteran players has been rewarding.
"We want them to play in the NHL, we want them to be good players for us and it is the best thing in the world," he said. "I really enjoy working with the young guys and seeing them grow and blossom… We have such a great relationship with these guys and they open up and it's good, good lines of communication."
For Pitlick and Fabbro, expectations are high, but Nichol is confident the Preds development team will help turn them both into assets.
"All of these kids have high expectations, that's why they're drafted and we sign them, but it still is a process and we'll work with them and hopefully the sky's the limit for both of them."