Word around the Nashville Predators’ training camp is that Jason Arnott has picked up right where he left off at the end of last season.
That’s good news for the team given the fact that where its captain left off was at the very top of his game. Granted, it was only four contests — he missed 11 games in the closing weeks with a concussion — but those who witnessed them first-hand have not forgotten those four contests.
“I thought he carried us in those (four) games,” coach Barry Trotz said. “…He was the guy who was the difference-maker.”
Added forward Steve Sullivan, one of Arnott’s linemates: “We were just riding on Superman’s coattails and hanging on for dear life.”
Fans will get to see for themselves Thursday when the Predators open the preseason against the Atlanta Thrashers (7 p.m., Sommet Center). Arnott will be one of the veterans in the lineup for that game, the first of three in three nights.
“It was nice to finish off knowing I could play at a high level after the way I went out with the head,” he said. “It was good.”
Arnott returned from the injury (he missed time earlier with finger and lower body issues) in time for a critical division contest against Columbus as Nashville battled to earn one of the final Western Conference playoff spots.
He had two goals and an assist that night as the Predators rallied for a shootout victory. He added four goals and another assist over the remaining three games (he scored at least once in each outing) and played with obvious passion at both ends of the ice.
The surge carried him to a franchise-record 33 goals, but the team won only two of the four and eventually finished 10th in the conference – three points shy of eighth place.
“If you could bottle those (four) games when he came back … he was as dominant a center iceman as there was in the league,” Trotz said. “… Because he had that sort of real determined mentality, he became that real determined 6-foot-5, 235-pound, highly skilled guy you could not contain.”
His play at the time was partially a product of Arnott’s inability to contain himself.
A veteran of 15 NHL seasons, he had missed out on the playoffs only once in the previous decade. During that stretch he played in the Stanley Cup finals twice with one championship. Thus he made no secret — by word or deed — of his desire to return to the postseason.
“I’m an emotional guy,” he said. “I usually speak my mind — sometimes it gets me in trouble, but that’s just me as a person. I take the game really seriously and I want nothing but to win. When you’ve had that taste of winning before, there’s no better feeling. And the worst feeling in the world is not making the playoffs.”
Sullivan and Trotz both agreed it is unreasonable to expect anyone to maintain that level of play throughout an entire 82-game regular season — “Even Wayne Gretzky had bad games,” Trotz said — but there seems to be no reason to think they won’t see more of it in the coming months.
“Ever since we’ve started (training camp) he’s been outstanding out there,” Sullivan said. “Even in practice, he’s a bull in a china shop out there. He’s just flying around hitting everything and scoring goals at will.”
• The lines that project as the top two for the season played that way in Wednesday’s intra-squad scrimmage.
The trio of David Legwand, Martin Erat and Mike Santorelli scored three times. Santorelli, who has been moved to the wing from center, had two goals and an assist.
“It was good out there,” Santorelli said. “When you play with two great players like that, they communicate real well so they help you out quite a bit.”
The Predators’ top offensive unit of Arnott, Sullivan and J.P. Dumont produced one of the prettiest goals when Sullivan one-timed a soft pass through the slot from Arnott.
“I was really impressed that everything started with our top guys,” Trotz said. “They set the standard in terms of the pace, the work ethic, all those types of things. They were really good. They were really throwing the puck around really well.”
• The first round of cuts were made following Wednesday’s workout.
Four 2009 draft picks: forwards Taylor Beck, Michael Latta and Gabriel Borque, and defensemen Charles-Oliver Roussel were returned to their junior teams.
Eight others: Scott Brannon, John Decaro, Mike McLean, Jacob Muzzin, Brock Sheahan, Arvid Stromberg, Pierre-Alexandre Vandall and Mark Van Guilder were released from their tryout agreements.
Seven players who took part in the rookie camp, including first-round choices Colin Wilson, Chet Pickard, Jonathan Blum and Ryan Ellis, were added to the main camp.
• Forward Joel Ward did not take part in the scrimmage because of a sore groin, which has limited him throughout the week.