The Nashville Predators will have up to nine players making their playoff debuts come Wednesday and Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Filip Forsberg, Mattias Ekholm and Seth Jones will be staring down two-time Stanley Cup Champions in Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, while suiting up for the first time in hockey’s most challenging and exciting time of year: the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Now is certainly a natural time for playoff veterans on the Preds roster to offer a helping hand for their less experienced teammates, but forward Matt Cullen said it’s also a chance for older players to gain energy off of the younger ones.
“Honestly, it’s more about feeding off of their energy,” said Cullen, a 68-game game playoff veteran. “You see the excitement of the younger guys; it’s their first time here. That’s fun and contagious, and I think it’s important to have guys that are experiencing it for the first time because it reminds you of your first game when you see the excitement in their eyes. That brings energy to our game, and I’m excited for all those guys.”
Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette, a two-time Cup finalist with Carolina (won, 2006) and Philadelphia (lost, 2010), said that a proper mix of youth and veteran skaters is what a team needs, especially in the postseason.
“Certainly, I think, you can rely on the veterans to help with the emotions that come with a playoff series,” Laviolette said. “We had meetings with everybody, we talked about the veteran players and the experience they can bring to the table. We’ve gotten our success with our youth and our veterans, and we’ll rely on that in the playoffs as well.”
While the intensity, emotion and importance of each contest increases once the League’s 16 teams officially begin to narrow down to one winner, younger players who have fulfilled key roles across an 82-game regular season have already gained invaluable experience.
For example, Forsberg became the fifth youngest player to lead a playoff-bound team in scoring. A 20-year-old rookie, the forward has logged top minutes and provided both offensive and defensive production all season long.
“I’m not worried; I think our younger players are really mature here,” Forsberg’s linemate, Mike Ribeiro said. “Yes, the intensity of [the Stanley Cup Playoffs] is higher, but I’m sure they’ve experienced playoffs before in other leagues. We have a lot of young players and a good mix of veterans too...I don’t think they’re nervous to play, I think they’re excited and that’s what’s important.”
Cullen agrees that the collection of Predators making their playoff debuts is a unique crop that goes well with veterans like himself and Ribeiro. Similar to Forsberg being aided by skating on a line with Ribeiro, 24-year-old Roman Josi complemented Captain Shea Weber on the blue line and even led Nashville defensemen in points.
“I think it’s always good to have a mix, like we’ve had all year,” Cullen said. “We have a good group of veteran guys that will hopefully help keep the calm in the room. We also have a bunch of young guys that can bring that energy and that excitement. I think it’s a good mix.”
Details on Predators Playoff Experience:
|Preds Playoff Game Leaders: ||Potential To Make Playoff Debut: |
|Mike Fisher (97 Games Played) ||Kevin Fiala (18 Years Old) |
|Anton Volchenkov (85 Games Played) ||Filip Forsberg (20 Years Old) |
|Matt Cullen (68 Games played) ||Seth Jones (20 Years Old) |
|Mike Ribeiro (49 Games Played) ||Calle Jarnkrok (23 Years Old) |
|Paul Gaustad (48 Games Played) ||Taylor Beck (23 Years Old) |
|Shea Weber (43 Games Played) ||Mattias Ekholm (24 Years Old) |
|James Neal (38 Games Played) ||Victor Bartley (27 Years Old) |
|Viktor Stalberg (32 Games Played) ||Carter Hutton (29 Years Old) |
|Pekka Rinne (28 Games Played) ||Mike Santorelli (29 Years Old) |