NASHVILLE — Admit it. You’ve barely watched the Nashville Predators play all season long, and now you’re wondering: Who ARE some of these guys?
Ryan Johansen? We know him. Good player. Traded for Seth Jones. Man, that was a ballsy trade.
James Neal? Played for Dallas. Remember when Pittsburgh traded him for Patric Hornqvist? Why is Nashville in on all the big deals?
P.K. Of course, P.K.
And, wait… Mike Fisher. Isn’t Mike Fisher still playing down there?
Then there’s this other guy. The one who keeps sticking his nose in everywhere. Another Swedish guy in Nashville.
Like, do the Svenskes all go there because those Tweety Bird uniforms remind them of home? Or is there some carnal leap from Abba to Lady Antebellum here, and only David Poile knows the connection?
Number 38. Who’s this little No. 38 that has the puck all the time?
“Viktor Arvidsson,” Swedish scout Lucas Bergman would say, for consecutive NHL Entry Drafts between 2012 and 2014.
“Viktor Arvidsson,” Poile, Nashville’s general manager, would say back. Then they would talk — again — about this five-foot-nine, 180-pound forward who had caught Bergman’s eye as a 16-year-old.
Bergman never gave up on the conversation. To his credit, neither did Poile, assistant GM Paul Fenton, or chief amateur scout Jeff Kealty. They considered Arvidsson every year, the way a man and wife discuss when the time is right to replace the eavestrough.
“We had him on our list all of those years. We discussed him every single draft year,” said Bergman, over the phone from Stockholm.
No. 38. Arvidsson.
The son of a Skelleftea potato farmer. Way up north, where the Swedish Lapland begins.
“It’s always dark, and the population is not big. Maybe 50,000 people,” Bergman said. “But hockey is their passion.”
You know who else came from the same place as Arvidsson and made it? Carl Yastrzemski, Devin Setoguchi and Owen Nolan.
Not from Skelleftea. They were all sons of potato farmers. All with a lifetime of hills to climb. A chip on their shoulder.
Their resolve to succeed literally crinkle cut into their soul…
“We really loved the tenaciousness. It was in his DNA,” said Bergman, taking you back to Arvidsson’s first draft year, 2012. “But at that time was size an issue? Was stamina an issue, to push through and play a 200-foot game?
“Still, this is the way he’s played his whole life. You’ll always love him.”
Nashville didn’t draft Arvidsson in 2012. No one did, and to this day only one player from that draft has had a 31-goal season, as Arvidsson did this year: Preds teammate Filip Forsberg (twice).
“We talked about him again the next year,” said Bergman, an original Poile hire when the expansion team was granted to Nashville. “He played in the SHL against men, but I thought he ran out of gas really quick. That he wasn’t able to push through. We always talked about how much we loved him, but…”
But Arvidsson’s name was never called in 2013. The Preds drafted Seth Jones at No. 4 that year, then picked nine more players. Only backup goalie Juuse Saros has played an NHL game to date.
Now Arvidsson is 21, stuck in his hometown on a Skelleftea roster with names like Pontus Petterstrom and the Swedish Sebastien Aho – not the Finnish one in Carolina. Pounding away. Leading his team to consecutive league titles.
Carrying them. Like a sack of… Well, you get it.
“In his last year, every time I watched him play, I never walked away without thinking (his game had improved),” Bergman said. “When a player hits you in the gut…”
Bergman searches for the right words.
“He gave an impression every time you walked away. Now, he had more stamina. He pushed through, against men. He won the scoring title in Skelleftea when they won the championship. At those draft meetings, we talked about all those things.
“Here I am, bringing him up for the third time,” Berglund continues. “We all said, ‘I know he’s small, but what else does he have to prove?’ He’s won the scoring title. He’s pushing through.
“He convinced us.”
Ever wonder why the Predators draft and develop better than almost everyone else? How they get Hornqvist with the last pick (230th) in the ’05 draft? How they get Pekka Rinne even deeper — 258th — the year before?
How they get Shea Weber at No. 49? Roman Josi at 38?
A five-foot-nine Laplander, chosen in the fourth round of his third draft, led Nashville in goals and points this season. That’s why little Nashville is still alive, and so many of the big boys are at home watching on TV.
“Big kudos for Jeff Kealty, Paul Fenton and David,” Bergman said. “They let us (field scouts) be involved, let our voices come through. There are no egos in our department. It’s all about finding the right players.”
When Arvidsson finally arrived, he grabbed his chance by the throat. Now, he’s the Anaheim Ducks’ problem, and he’ll never go unnoticed again.
“If guys play tough against me, I want to play tough against them,” Arvidsson said during Round 2. “That’s in my nature. Someone cross checks me, I want to cross check them back. That’s how it is.”
Watch him pop up from this hit by Duncan Keith in Round 1.
Who gets up that fast, after a hit like that?
The son of a potato farmer does.