Before he led the entire League in hits throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs - and it wasn't even close - Austin Watson was spending the 2016-17 season establishing himself as a full-time NHL player, crafting his game into exactly what the Predators were looking for.
It didn't always come easy for Nashville's first-round selection in 2010, with Watson admitting on a number of occasions that when he got his first few chances with the big club, he was playing not to make a mistake, which in turn led to exactly what he was trying to avoid.
But now, the 6-foot-4 winger has turned into one of the more reliable forwards in a number of situations for Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette, and because of his efforts last season, Watson was rewarded with a three-year deal over the summer to remain in a city that has become home.
"I'm so grateful and happy to be here," Watson said. "I love the organization, and especially with the way things have gone over the last couple of years with the success we've had, to be here for another three years and to continue to try and build on that with this group is something I'm definitely extremely grateful for."
Video: Austin Watson signs a three-year deal with the Preds
Now that Watson has earned the trust of those behind the bench, he's focused on giving the coaching staff even more reasons to put him on the ice, something that's top of mind here in training camp.
"I feel confident in the way that I play and the way that I need to play to be successful… but I'm not saying that I don't want to be better," Watson said. "I want to continue to build on the things that I'm doing and continue to try to produce more, to be more reliable to be better [two-way forward]. But in all of those things, I'm confident in what I bring to the table."
Laviolette would tend to agree.
"He's in incredible shape, and he looked really strong out there," Laviolette said of Watson. "He's unbelievable at what he does, and he was a big part of our team last year and what we were able to accomplish. He's going to be a big part of what we do this year as well."
Ekholm's Training Camp Approach:
To the casual observer, training camp may seem rather monotonous - drill after drill, passing and shooting, plus, plenty of skating. But look a bit closer, and it's so much more than just sticks and pucks day after day.
Mattias Ekholm, who has skated in more than a few training camps, approaches the time to get a number of items in check.
"Training camp goes quickly after all and you can't think it's just a fun ride," Ekholm said. "You have to be able to work and put the work in… Games are coming up so it's intense and that's just the way it should be."
Video: Mattias Ekholm talks chemistry on Preds blue line
Last season's camp was almost non-existent for Ekholm as he was playing for Sweden at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto. That took away from time to skate with his fellow blueliners, including P.K. Subban, the man who Ekholm ultimately saw the most time with in 2016-17.
A similar challenge exists this time around with defenseman Ryan Ellis set to miss at least the first couple months of the season due to injury, and while it might not be Ekholm who is ultimately searching for a new defensive partner come opening night, the possibility always exists.
"I think these [practice] days are just as important [as preseason games]," Ekholm said. "I think in practice, you learn a lot, too. You just recognize the tendencies and what to do in certain areas and where he's at on the ice. It comes down to games, but I think practice is just as important."