While working on different articles and notes for The Predatorial and my place of employment, I had my TV tuned to the NHL Network last night watching the replays of the Anaheim/Nashville playoff series from last year.
With the sound off (because I’m listening to something on the laptop), I found my eyes kept going back to one player in particular. It was a player that hustled every single minute he was on the ice and never gave up on a play. He doesn’t have the most skilled linemates around him, but that doesn’t stop him from getting himself or others in a position to clear the puck, break into the opponents zone, or plant himself around the opposing net. That player is Nick Spaling.
As much as Matt Halischuk gets his nickname “Hustlechuk” for his non-stop attitude, Spaling has definitely earned his “Spals to the Wall” moniker for displaying some of the toughest and hard-fought TOI in a Nashville Predators sweater.
From the seats at Bridgestone Arena last season, I witnessed the flat-out hustle that Spaling employs on every single shift. It was that all-out performance that netted him two goals against Anaheim in the series clinching win in Game 6. More times than I could count, it was Spaling who exhibited a selfless determination to clear pucks in the waning moments of a game when the other team had pulled their goalie and were pinning Nashville in their zone for what felt like forever.
As far as numbers go, Spaling was more pedestrian when it came to offensive prowess, and his +/- rating of -10 at season’s end doesn’t paint the whole picture as to what Spaling brings to the ice night in and night out. The upside to Spaling is his drive; the constant motion and emotion that he expends on the ice boosting the level of those he plays alongside. Spaling ranked second among Nashville forwards in average shorthanded ice time (2:40). Spaling also seems to be a face-off specialist, as winning face-offs is a sometimes overlooked aspect of hockey. That may be the most important factor in killing a penalty or starting the rush into your opponent’s zone.
1st Year Stats for Two-way Forwards:
David Legwand: 71gp - 13g, 15a, 28pts, -6
Manny Malhotra: 73gp - 8g, 8a, 16pts, -2
Scott Nichol: 60gp - 8g, 9a, 17pts, -9
Samuel Pahlsson: 80gp - 6g, 14a, 20pts -16
Adam Hall: 79gp - 16g, 12a, 28pts, -8
Nick Spaling: 74gp - 8g, 6a, 14pts, -10
This is some great company to be compared to and Spaling, to his credit, might become a feared name in the realms of defensive forwards. There is a bit of a stretch to be made between Legwand and Spaling in their first years in production, but bear in mind that Legwand was the highly touted 2nd pick overall and played on the top two lines to boost his points. Spaling has a long way to go to be on par with the likes of David Legwand, but Spaling’s resiliency and on-ice vision will bring him to the next level of solid two-way forwards in the very near future. We may just be looking at the second coming of David Legwand, and as of right now, his contract is much more manageable at $1M per for the next two years.
Keep an eye on #13 this year and you may find yourself wondering how much more this kid can do, and believe it or not, you aren’t even watching the closing moments of the third period yet.