Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Veteran Nichol sees opportunity with Blues

Center expected to fill fourth line role; shoulder injury right on schedule

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Scott Nichol knows a thing or two about winning. He's been a part of some successful teams in recent seasons with Nashville and recently San Jose that have been to the playoffs.

So when Nichol decided St. Louis is where he wanted to spend his 12th NHL season, there was one specific reason in mind.

"I think we have all the pieces," Nichol said, adding, "... You don't want to compare team to team, but we have bonafide superstars in here. I don't know if they know that yet. I think they have to believe in it themselves."
(Getty Images)
Scott Nichol (left) gives the Blues a veteran presence with a winning attitude

That speaks volumes coming from a guy who spent the last two seasons playing with the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle and others.

"If you look from guy to guy from, say, San Jose's team to our team, we match up very well ... maybe a little bit younger, maybe not as poised as maybe the Joe Thorntons or Patty (Marleau) because they have been around for a little while," Nichol said. "That'll come with experience and that'll come with taking your lumps the last couple years of having success and then not having it. I think it's going to be a really exciting year. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people."

When the Blues went out and added Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, these are names that people recognize as talented-laden players. But there's always a need for that gritty, fourth line-type of guy who will give you all he's got without the glamour; the guy that won't see his name in print or on the highlight reels every day.

The Blues addressed two needs when signing Nichol to a one-year, $700,000 contract: someone to handle the center position and someone who can give them that grit.

"I'm not the most skilled guy, that's for sure," Nichol joked. "But I'm gonna go out there and just work. Being a (blue-collared guy), I think that's what's kept me in the league for so long. You want to find that niche that keeps you in the league.

"I think winning face-offs, giving it my all every single shift and taking the body and adding a little excitement, that's what fourth-line guys do. Win big face-offs, kill penalties and be reliable on the ice in different aspects of the game is what I can do."

Said Blues coach Davis Payne, "
A guy like Scotty Nichol, who's a good face-off guy, now all of the sudden, key responsibilities come to play in there with a guy like (Vladimir) Sobotka."

Nichol is coming off of surgery in late May to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Everything seems to be geared towards playing in the opener on Oct. 8.

"I went and got it checked out (Monday) by the team doctor here," Nichol said. "Everything looks like it's on pace for getting strong. It feels good and every day has been -- for my peace of mind -- a little more bumping.

"... I'll be ready for sure, unless we have a major setback." That's why Nichol made sure he got the procedure done immediately, "because we knew the clock was ticking with this type of surgery."

Nichol, who has been a Blues killer in the past with 10 of his 52 career goals against them, will take the necessary precautions before being deemed 100 percent ready to go. But in pre-camp preparations with his new teammates, the veteran Nichol likes what he sees.

"I'm really excited," he said. "It's a testament to the guys coming back so early and skating all together. ... These young guys, they came back, they're focused and ready to go and I think that's a really good attribute to have."

And the mindset of expecting to be a playoff team instead of hopeful is the attitude Nichol said these players need to embrace.

"Absolutely, you have to. And you can't just expect to get in," Nichol said. "I think we did that in Nashville while I was there for four years and we'd just get in the last week of the season and then we lose in the first round. Because our goal was to get into the playoffs and then it seemed like we were so focused on getting in ... even though we gave it our all, you're so tapped out by the time the first round comes.

"You want to create that winning environment and believe in one another that we're going to win every night. You want to be looking by the last month and the end of the year, you want to be looking down at the standings at everybody else dog-fighting it for every last spot in the playoffs. ... It happened to us last year. We were in the 12th spot in January and we had to work like dogs to make the playoffs. I think we gassed out. You look at Detroit the year before when they struggled and ended up squeaking in. We played them in the second round and they ran out of gas also."

Nichol's role is expected to be the fourth-line center between Sobotka and B.J. Crombeen, and don't expect a drop in intensity when that line is on the ice.

"If you have four lines that can play, it does take a little bit of wear and tear off of everybody else," Nichol said. "The biggest thing is getting the coach to have confidence in us. Once we have confidence, we play a lot better. It's just like anybody. If you have confidence, you play well. If you don't, it's not a real fun game to play. Having four lines that can play is huge. Look at the upper-echelon teams, all four lines can play."

Which is why the Blues built up all four of their lines.

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