There are subtleties in Predators forward Nick Spaling’s game that show a level of improvement beyond statistics.
Is he playing more minutes per night? No, but he has been more effective in his time on ice.
Is he on pace for career highs in any category? No, but he isn’t being asked to be a scorer.
Spaling’s game, in fact, doesn’t show up in stats. It comes from winning battles on the boards, killing off penalties and staying in position. He’s doing all three things well this season.
“He’s one of those guys who is underrated,” defenseman Shea Weber said. “You may not notice him as much and he may not get the credit, but we know he’s a valuable part of our team and a guy who plays those hard minutes, those penalty-kill minutes late in the game. Coaches like him because he sticks to the system and then he’s able to chip in.”
The 6-foot-1, 201-pound, 25-year-old Spaling is on pace for 18 points. He has two goals and two assists in 17 games. He posted his career highs of 10 goals and 12 assists in 77 games in 2011-12, and he had nine goals in 47 games last season.
Spaling has made a concerted effort to not worry about scoring, but to focus on his role as a heady two-way utility forward who is strong defensively.
“He was a skinny kid when he first came up, with good hockey sense — he has a lot of detail to his game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “But over time he has his man-strength and feels comfortable in a lot of roles. Probably one of the most useful players we have in terms of playing multiple positions and multiple roles on our team.”
The understated Spaling shrugged off any notion that his game has changed this season. It’s more of an evolution, he suggested. It means playing the same type of game every night, with more ups than downs.
“Over the summer you want to improve on your game, but I’m trying to stick with a lot of the same things,” Spaling said. “We have a long way to go here, but one of the things I want to work on is consistency. And obviously every night that’s playing hard and staying on teams and creating pressure.”