The Nashville Predators aren’t known for their big names. They don’t have a Patrick Kane, a Steven Stamkos, or a Daniel Sedin. They aren’t a one man or a one-line show. However, what this team always seems to have an abundance of are hidden gems. You may not know them when you are staring at them, however they’re right in front of you game in and game out.
Playing in his first full season in the NHL and having a phenomenal year, Nick Spaling brings a “business as usual” mentality to the locker room on game nights. He may not light up the stat sheet, but it’s the intangibles he brings to every game that has him in the upper echelons among the elite defensive forwards in the league.
Spaling face-off statistics and shorthanded time on the ice are starting to turn heads and for good reason. He currently has a face-off win percentage of 50.5%, which sandwiches him in between Blair Betts and Claude Giroux (both from the Philadelphia Flyers) in the top 50 in the league. Not only that, but Spaling has better face-off win percentages than Mike Richards (PHI), Anze Kopitar (LAK), Tomas Plekanec (MTL), and former Senator/current Predator Mike Fisher.
Spaling knows that the key to making himself a better player lies with his teammates. “I’ve learned a lot from Smithson, he’s a great faceoff guy and he’s at the top of the league, ” said Spaling, “He’s helped me out a little bit.” However, being a newcomer, it helps to know what to expect from some of the veteran opposition in the face-off dot. “There are a lot of guys that have been here a while, like [Smithson], who know different wears and tell me certain things [opposing players] like to do,” explained Spaling, “That helps, because it gets you a little more prepared and you know a little bit what to expect and you can try to counter it.”
Being a good face-off winner is one thing, but to win face-offs and kill penalties effectively is something completely separate. The Predators may not know what to do if they didn’t have number 13 on the penalty kill. Spaling is currently averaging 2:48 of shorthanded time on the ice (SH/TOI) per game and has a total of 168:34 SH/TOI this season so far. Just to make some comparisons, see if you recognize any of these familiar faces:
Zdeno Chara – Averages 2:47, Total 186:41 SH/TOI
Duncan Keith – Averages 2:46, Total 189:00 SH/TOI
Nicklas Lidstrom – Averages 2:50, Total 190:15 SH/TOI
“It means a lot, it’s big to just have that kind of trust,” Spaling said, when I asked him about how it felt that the coaching staff puts so much trust in him on the penalty kill, “I want to just keep going out there and doing that job.” He’ll continue to get the chance. When a player puts up numbers like Nick has, it’s hard to ignore his contributions. Currently, the Predators stand at 5th in the league in Penalty Kill percentage, largely in part to Spaling’s tireless efforts and how he never takes a shift off. It’s not just Spaling, though, in his opinion, but it’s every player doing their part as to why the Predators are having continual success on the PK, “I think that everybody is on the same page. We have our system and everyone sticks to it and trusts each other out there. That’s our thing, I think, we have a lot of trust in every other guy on the ice.”
With nearly a full years experience under his belt, Nick knows that there is one huge key to being a good player in the NHL: “In this league you have to be consistent, you have to work on being consistent every night. That’s a big thing in this league and I think it will go a long way [for me].” What people don’t seem to realize, though, is that Spaling is essentially playing a role that is mostly played by grizzled veterans, ones that have been in the league for 5, 10, 15 years…and he’s one of the top players in the league at what he does best. “You know, it’s been nice,” Spaling said, “It’s been a great opportunity I think they’ve given me. It’s been going well for the most part and I want to keep it up. We got some big games left and I want to continue to be a part of them.”
The way Nick Spaling plays night in and night out, he shouldn’t have to worry about whether he’ll continue to be playing for the Predators. Without Spaling, the Predators would be in a bit of a pickle when they have to send someone to the box or if they need someone to take a faceoff. There are hidden gems all around this team, there always are. However, if you look closely, you’ll notice a few of them shine like diamonds. You just have to pay attention is all. Because if you don’t, you may miss one of the league’s best players skate right past you.