With just 16 games of NHL experience, Nick Spaling still has a lot to learn.
Even so, coach Barry Trotz figures the 21-year-old Nashville Predators’ forward can teach other young players a thing or two about getting their own NHL educations.
“If you’re a young guy and you want to know how to act, how prepare and how to behave — he does it all pretty good,” Trotz said.
Spaling, a second-round Predators’ draft pick (58th overall) in 2007 is one of four young forwards who has been called up from Milwaukee at some point this season. Unlike the other three — Mike Santorelli, Cal O’Reilly and Andreas Thuresson — he has managed to stick around.
Santorelli, O’Reilly and Thuresson all saw NHL action this season before Spaling, who was recalled from Milwaukee on Dec. 15 and made his NHL debut that day against Tampa Bay. Each also has since been sent back to the American Hockey League, most recently O’Reilly last Saturday and Thuresson following Monday’s 4-3 loss to Toronto.
Spaling’s 16 consecutive games played is the longest streak among any of those players.
“He’s a real detail guy,” Trotz said. “We try to put guys in roles that they fit traditionally. … (Spaling) has been a penalty killer, a little more grind and played in a checking role in Milwaukee this year, and we put him in that role. With the injuries in those (areas) he got a little more opportunity.”
It hasn’t hurt that he also has played both center and left wing in the minors. Similarly, he has played both for the Predators when veterans such as Jerred Smithson, Joel Ward and Jordin Tootoo have missed time with injuries.
“It doesn’t really matter, wherever they need me I like to play,” Spaling said. “I’m not too concerned with where they want me.”
Smithson returned from to the lineup against the Maple Leafs. Tootoo was cleared to resume competition that same night, but his return was delayed until Thursday when the Predators play at Phoenix (8 p.m., Fox Sports Tennessee) in the first of two road games in two days. They also ply Friday at Colorado (8 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).
With one extra forward now on the roster, it remains to be seen whether Spaling still will have a regular role or if he’ll have to sit and watch on occasion. Trotz did say there are no plans to send Spaling back to the minors.
Other than that, Spaling has to show he can score in the NHL the way he did in junior hockey, where he had 72 points (38 goals, 34 assists) in 56 games in 2007-08, his final season with Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League. Thus far, he has just one assist and no goals in the NHL.
“He still has not made an impact on the scoreboard, but that’s part of the process,” general manager David Poile said. “He can check and be responsible in a variety of ways …Definitely, he has an attention to details. He doesn’t need to be taught a lot.”
Just as important, he knows how to learn the things he needs to learn.