NHL clubs wring their hands perpetually in the offseason, hoping to find that missing ingredient — a player that can take the organization to the next level. The Predators didn’t have to look very far for their spark this summer. He was already on the roster.
And now he’s coming into his own.
23-year-old Viktor Arvidsson, an undersized yet lion-hearted two-way forward, is on pace to obliterate his production numbers from last season and he’s become a key member of the team’s top line along with James Neal and Ryan Johansen.
The trio has the fourth-highest possession stats among lines that have played more than 100 minutes together at even strength, and Arvidsson has been tenacious in his minutes, setting the tone for the Predators by getting to the net to create havoc and never shying away from wall work.
Here’s a quintessential Arvidsson goal scenario: The Swede gets crosschecked to the ice by Tampa defenseman Braydon Coburn after Nashville wins an O-zone faceoff. As Nashville maintains possession, Arvidsson the Energizer Bunny works his way to his feet, absorbs a few more hacks from Coburn, then quickly changes direction and darts across the goalmouth where he deflects a Roman Josi shot-pass into the net for a goal.
It’s the non-stop motor, blazing speed and low center of gravity that makes Arvidsson difficult to keep in check. He’s been a veritable Tasmanian Devil this season for the Predators, providing his team with high-energy attitude and a finishing touch to boot.
Head Coach Peter Laviolette has liked what he’s seen. A lot.
“The way he works on the ice, every shift he leaves everything out there,” Laviolette told the Tennessean’s Adam Vingan. “It’s inspiring if you watch him. … He’s not the biggest guy on the ice, and yet you wouldn’t know it by the way he plays the game and the determination that he plays the game. He earns everything he gets on the ice. That’s how he gets it.”
Last year Arvidsson made waves at times, including when he scored the overtime winner to force Game 7 of the Predators second-round playoff series with the San Jose Sharks. But in 2016 he’s taken his game to another level. Through just 21 games, he is three points shy of his 16 total points for last season (0.62 points per game compared with 0.29 points per game last season). Look for him to reach career-high scoring numbers by the middle of December.
It hasn’t come easy for Arvidsson, and that fact explains why the diminutive Swede plays with a massive chip on his shoulder. He was passed over in his first two draft-eligible years and finally was chosen by the Predators in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. After the first draft snub Arvidsson said he made the conscious decision to increase his strength and stamina so that he could become an “energy player.”
A half-decade later and the 5’9” winger has gone from “undrafted maybe” to “top-six definite”.
The Predators have embraced a “dog on bone” mentality this season, and Arvidsson’s linemate Ryan Johansen sees the Swede as the pack leader: “Our slogan this year is kind of that dog on bone mentality and to me it should be his face on the picture,” Johansen said. “Every night right now, he’s been bringing it. His speed and his work ethic. I really love the way he’s been playing and he deserves a lot of credit.”
Arvidsson has been giving the Predators more than they could have hoped for in his second full NHL season. Speed, heart, determination and finishing—and all of it at a very minimal cap hit of $631,000. To become an elite team in today’s salary-capped NHL, there has to be breakout production from players on entry level deals.
The Predators are getting all that they bargained for in Arvidsson this season — and a whole lot more.