Forwards Vernon Fiddler and Darren Haydar are the elder statesmen at the Predators’ conditioning camp this week, and they know that their window of opportunity to make the big club narrows quickly with each passing day.
Fiddler, 23, paid his dues in the East Coast Hockey League before getting the chance last season to play in 19 games for the Predators, scoring four goals and adding a pair of assists.
Haydar was a star for the University of New Hampshire before becoming a pro. He played two games for the Predators and had no points, but he was the Rookie of the Year in the American Hockey League with 75 points (29 goals, 46 assists) in 75 games for the Milwaukee Admirals.
Fiddler was making a name for himself with the Predators until a miscue on a play against Ottawa cost the Predators a goal and the game, and Fiddler his confidence.
“His confidence level went down, and we didn’t send him down the next day because of the mistake, but because we had people coming back for health reasons,” said Nashville coach Barry Trotz. “He struggled with that. He was so determined to be in the National Hockey League and to stay in it that it was a little bit of a letdown for him. It took a little edge off of his game. When you have that missing it is tough to get it back.”
Fiddler, who had 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 54 games for Milwaukee, stresses that play is in the past now, but that he used it as a learning experience.
“Everything was going so good,” Fiddler said. “Emotions kept getting higher and higher, and one little low like that will break you.
“It happened. It did affect my confidence. But I learned from it. You’re not going to learn anything unless you make mistakes.”
Trotz emphasized that Fiddler’s desire to want to be part of the prospects camp shows how hard he is willing to work.
“He wants to train, and show he is committed,” Trotz said. “Hopefully, Vern will come back in training camp and be the player he can be. We’ll start from square one again.
“Vern has to be that pesky, in-your-face centerman that he was, and be good on draws. He has to get himself physically strong.”
This edition of the training camp for prospects has been the most rugged one in the history of the franchise. Both Fiddler, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, and Haydar, 5-9, 170 pounds, have welcomed the challenge, since both know they have to get bigger and stronger in order to stay in the NHL.
“I’m here to learn and contribute and maybe be an example for the younger guys,” Fiddler said. “Hopefully, the younger guys will see what I did last year, and that will give them a spark and a fire.
Haydar, 23, has spent most of his life as a hockey player proving people wrong.
“With guys that are smaller there are always more road blocks out there for them,” Trotz said. "Everybody is a little more skeptical. That is either going to make him quit the game and drive him to fail, or drive him to succeed.”
Haydar can score goals but has to show he can play a complete game. In his short time with the Predators, he played on the third and fourth lines, not exactly the lines where he can show his talent.
“There is a lot of work and a lot of commitment that goes into being successful,” Trotz said. “Darren is going to have to get as strong as he physically can with his body. He is going to have to win more one-on-one battles. He is going to have to find ways to get to the net. He is going to have to be as explosive as he can because he doesn’t have great end-to-end speed.
“He is quite shifty ... very intelligent. Defensively, he is going to have to be committed. He does have the intangibles of great vision, patience and passing skills and he has the ability to score. But the strength, hard work and commitment are as much skills as those other things.”
Haydar knows he still has work to do, and he is using this week to prove to the coaching staff that he belongs in the NHL, though he doesn’t expect to be a regular this season.
“I don’t expect to be on the team for the full season,” Haydar said. “I would like to take it one step at a time instead of taking that big step and failing. I would like to get a few more games. I want to be reliable, and take responsibilities for my actions.”
Haydar doesn’t think his size should be an issue, though he knows it is difficult to avoid.
“To me it is going to be playing with confidence when I get the opportunity, and being more than just happy to be there,” Haydar said.
The prospects were scheduled to spend today on a paintball course. They will return to the ice Saturday afternoon.
Preds swap defensemen
Predators vice-president/general manager David Poile traded defenseman Peter Smrek to the Minnesota Wild for defenseman Curtis Murphy.
Smrek, 24, spent last season with the Admirals, where he had career highs in games played (68), goals (three) and assists (20).
Murphy, 27, played one game for the Wild last season. Murphy, 5-8, 185 pounds, won the Eddie Shore Award as the top defenseman in the AHL playing for the Houston Aeros. He scored 23 goals and added 31 assists for 54 points in 80 games. Murphy played three seasons with the Orlando Solar Bears in the old International Hockey League for Predators assistant coach Peter Horachek.