At the center of the top-producing first line in the NHL is Nashville Predators forward Mike Ribeiro.
Roughly a quarter of the way into the season, points and minutes have piled up for the 34-year-old center, signed by the club as a free agent this summer. Logging a team-high 19 minutes in average time on ice (ATOI) and contributing 14 points, already calling the 2014-15 season a bounce-back campaign for Ribeiro isn’t a stretch.
Ribeiro admitted on Monday that a new mindset this season has led to a more productive start to this campaign than he logged in 2013-14 with the Arizona Coyotes.
“I think caring more has been the biggest difference,” Ribeiro said. “I care for my teammates and team, and I want to come to work. I think last year I didn’t really want to play, so I didn’t want to come to work and things weren’t working out. This is a totally different situation. I want to come and play, and I want to do well and with that, always trying to do better helps, too.”
Last year I didn’t really want to play, so I didn’t want to come to work and things weren’t working out. This is a totally different situation. - Mike Ribeiro
After a 47-point season, Ribeiro was bought out of the remaining three years on his deal with the Coyotes in June before signing on to be a part of the forward transformation in Nashville a month later.
“In past years, there have been some situations that helped bringing [Ribeiro] to us, and I think he has something to prove to [himself] and to the hockey world in terms of what he has left,” Nashville General Manager David Poile said earlier this month. “Ribeiro...has been just what we’ve needed so far though. Yes, it was a bit of gamble, but we’re hoping he’ll continue to bring what we need to our forward group.”
Renewed passion for the game has helped Ribeiro’s transition to the Nashville locker room, as well as skating with a former teammate in James Neal. Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said it was an easy decision to put the pair back together when drawing out the Preds lines at the start of the campaign. To date, the re-union has clicked to the tune of nine goals for Neal and a combined 28 points for the duo.
“Ribs is a guy that’s got good vision and he can make great plays,” Neal said. “For me, I’m obviously a shooter and I try to get the puck off wherever I can, so it makes for a good combination. With [Filip Forsberg] being on the other side, it’s been a fun line to play with and we’ve been good in the offensive zone and we’re creating a lot of chances.”
Ribeiro said finding success on the ice again has been easy thanks to the fast start by the team and playing with two talented shooters - something the assist man enjoys.
“I’ve got the chance to play with good players and have a lot of ice time too. I think my preparation is a little different with coming to a new team and wanting to do well,” said Ribeiro. “I didn’t do that very well last year.
“Those guys are shooters and I try to create more off of passes. You’re usually trying to get scoring chances for your linemates, but when they can score like those two can, it makes it even easier. My main goal has been trying to create space for them and then get them the puck when they’re in the right place to shoot. That’s been working well so far.”
Neal hasn’t been the only beneficiary of the resurgence of Ribeiro, a player that’s previously notched three 50-assist seasons. The NHL’s rookie-leading scorer Filip Forsberg has also quickly found success skating next to the veteran.
“I’ve learned a lot from him being around him every day,” Forsberg said. “He’s been in this League for awhile, and you can tell he knows what it takes to be a top player here. Just watching how he plays has been helpful... He’s got great vision, so I just try to get open and I’m going to get the puck from him. It’s real easy to play with him.”
In the end, Ribeiro represents just one-third of a line that’s already beaten a lot of odds on it’s way to tops in the League. Neal, brought in via trade in June; Forsberg, a rookie who spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League; and Ribeiro, a veteran signed amongst questions about his place in the NHL; the Preds first line certainly didn’t follow a traditional route.
A fact that Neal says has only helped the unit to gel even faster.
“For me, I was coming into a new challenge and a new team, and for Ribs, he was coming into a year where he needed to get back on track,” Neal said. “I think we’ve both really helped each other out, and it’s been a lot of fun so far. Along with [Forsberg], we’re still looking for that continued success and to keep getting better.”