Reasonable Expectations- Nick Spaling

Lilja was so afraid of Shea breaking his jaw again, he took out Emery so Spaling could roof this shot. How nice. (PHOTO- Reuters)

Last year, he was part of my favorite line in the history of Predator hockey. He plays some sick defense, does all the little things right, found a knack for scoring gritty goals as the season went on, and doesn’t make many mistakes. Nick Spaling has already developed a cult following here in Nashville. His hard work and grittiness has not gone un-noticed. But with his upgraded contract, upgraded expectations are soon to follow.

When the new prized free agent signing Michael Lombardi went down with a concussion stemming from the first game of the season, coach Trotz dialed up Milwaukee (a running theme fora the season) and Spaling strolled in. The severity of Lombardi’s injury wasn’t known, and the fans figured Nick was just going to be a stop-gap until Lombardi was healthy enough to play.

One paired with Smithson and Tootoo, Nick began to shine by emulating the style of Smithson (something that likely made Barry Trotz’s heart glow), and had instant chemistry with the two veterans. His work ethic won over the fans, and his teammates who made certain he got his first NHL goal in garbage time against the Islanders.

His talents were very well served on the penalty kill, where he was also paired with Smithson. Looking at his stats from the past year, it doesn’t jump off the page. But when you put it in the context of when he plays and who his line mates were for most of the year, it’s not hard to see why many fans want his jersey. Then, check out his contribution in the playoffs against two offensive juggernaut teams. Seriously, will you ever forget this goal?

Now, with all of that said… Nick Spaling is no MVP candidate. He’s 22. He’ll likely be used in more defensive settings than offensive situations. But what he can give is another solid option to play against top lines, taking pressure off the Legwand and Fisher lines. As he develops more, he’ll be eased into more offensive situations. But to be honest, I’m completely OK with him being the next Vern Fiddler, a smart versatile player who can be used in any situation. With the pay increase of course we want to see an increase in productivity, Last year he put up 8 goals, 14 points, and finished with a +/- of -10. Not bad considering who we was facing on the other side. This year I expect more of the same, maybe 13 goals, 20 assists, and a +/- of let’s say -5. (Cue the nerds telling me “plus/minus is an outdated stat”. Yeah, and?) These numbers could go up if he’s partnered with O’Reilly, Craig Smith, etc.

Overall, I think he could really be a special player under Barry Trotz. He fits the mold. He’s only 22, and “gets it” when it comes to Trotz’s system. Can’t say that about some other players we’ve seen come through Nashville.

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