Spaling takes on top-six forward role with Fisher out of lineup
After winning back-to-back games over the weekend, the Nashville Predators remain undefeated on the season, despite some lingering injuries. Francis Bouillon and Mike Fisher missed the pair of games for Nashville. Martin Erat did not play Saturday night against the Blues.
Fisher is often considered Nashville’s number one center, though, through two games there is no denying the top line for the Predators is David Legwand, Colin Wilson and rookie Craig Smith.
On Friday night, it was interesting to note that Nick Spaling centered Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn rather than Cal O’Reilly. The more skilled forward centered energy players Jordin Tootoo and Matt Halischuk, despite the energy line seeming like a more natural fit for Spaling.
Just because Spaling is seen as a penalty kill specialist, however, does not mean that he cannot fill the top-six forward role admirably.
Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz says Spaling has the talent to step into the top-six forward role. “Spaling can play. He played with elite players when he was in junior. He is capable. He’s a real detailed guy,” Trotz said.
The elite line that Trotz is talking about comes from Spaling’s time with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers. Spaling played on a line with Halischuk and Los Angeles Kings prospect Justin Azevedo.
During the 2007-08 season, Azevedo won many top honors, including being named the Canadian Hockey League player of the year. Halischuk played for Canada’s 2008 World Junior Hockey Championship team, scoring the overtime game-winning goal of the Gold medal tilt against Sweden. Spaling was invited to the Junior’s training camp but had to leave early due to being diagnosed with mononucleosis. Born in Palmerston, but raised in Drayton, Ontario, the center was awarded the William Hanley Trophy given to the OHL’s most sportsmanlike player.
That same 2007-08 season, the Rangers won the OHL title, but lost in the Memorial Cup championship game 4-1 to the Spokane Chiefs.
In 56 games, Spaling had 38 goals and 34 assists for 72 points during his final year of junior, while Azevedo put up massive numbers with 43 goals and 81 assists for 124 points. Halischuk added 13 goals and 46 assists for 59 points.
On Friday night in Columbus, Spaling saw 14:42 of ice time centering Erat and Kostitsyn. While he had five shots on goal, Spaling’s line was also on the ice for both Columbus goals.
Spaling says he just needs to keep working on chemistry with his linemates.
“It went alright tonight. We just need to continue to build on our start and get some more chemistry together,” Spaling said, adding, “I was comfortable with the guys. I know the guys. It makes it a lot easier to play with whomever right now.”
Being able to play with whoever Trotz puts with Spaling is essential, considering Erat was out of the lineup on Saturday in St. Louis, and was replaced by Patric Hornqvist.
“He is actually a really good player,” Hornqvist said about Spaling. “He can make some great plays out there. He has good hands and good speed. He is going to be a great player for us this year. He is not a grinder,” he said.
Spaling played for 18:39 Saturday night, finished with a +1 rating and assisted on David Legwand’s empty net goal to seal the win for Nashville.
Hornqvist says chemistry comes easy playing with Spaling. “He is good at supporting the puck. He can hang on to it down low. He is really good behind the goal line. I just try to be open so he can find me.”
Trotz says he intends to keep Spaling on the scoring line for the time being, likely until Fisher is ready to return to the lineup.
The Predators had Sunday off after winning their weekend games. Now the team will get back to business on Monday to prepare for Thursday night’s home opener at Bridgestone Arena.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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