Scott Nichol has a reputation as an effective, veteran checking center with a feisty attitude and determined work ethic. Where will that resume take him this fall? As an unrestricted free agent in Nashville, where a youth movement is apparently afoot on the 3rd and 4th lines, Nichol currently sits on the open market.
What exactly, then, can Scott Nichol bring to an NHL team? Let's take a look and see how he did last season...
Nichol's season got derailed in a December 9 game against Vancouver, when Rob Davison took advantage of an opportunity to step up and level Nichol as he carried the puck through center ice. The resulting concussion kept him out of the lineup for months. At the time, he had 3 goals and 6 assists through 27 games, a decent contribution for a 4th-line/PK specialist which would have easily surpassed his career best over an 82-game season.
Nichol was on a fine pace at even strength, with the best offensive results among centers on the team outside of Jason Arnott and David Legwand, and top-notch Goals Against values as well (admittedly against lesser opposition).
Not a significant factor for Nichol.
One of the consistent themes in Nashville is solid penalty killing, and Scott Nichol has been a stalwart there. At 2:40 per game shorthanded, Nichol trailed only Jerred Smithson (2:50) and Vern Fiddler (2:44) in PK ice time. Surprisingly, however, in terms of Goals Against, things didn't go well. His 9.11 Goals Against/60 Minutes in 4-on-5 action far exceeded that of comparable players like Fiddler (6.58), Legwand (5.93), or Smithson (3.58).
In general, the Nashville PK got better during the 2nd half of the season, much of the time in which Nichol was out with the concussion. Whether the unit as a whole get their act together, or Nichol's absence lifted the overall results, is an interesting question. There's not much in the overall Shots For/Against results to indicate that Nichol's work was inferior to the rest of the pack, so I'm tempted based on his general history and strong 5-on-5 play to give him a bit of a pass here. Any team acquiring Scott Nichol would want to use him as a key PK man.
One other noteworthy aspect of Nichol's game is his faceoff ability. He posted a strong 54.6% winning percentage last season, and in 2007-8 led the NHL with a 59.8% mark. This is especially impressive when you consider that he takes very few power play draws, but quite a few on the penalty kill. When I looked at a partial-season's worth of data in February 2008, it appeared that teams on the power play win about 56% of faceoffs, leaving 44% for the penalty killers. Thus, for a PK scrapper to still come out on the high side of 50% overall is a remarkable achievement.
Nichol's play is always energetic, and usually combined with a good measure of discipline. His Penalty Plus/Minus last season was a -2, a fine value for a defensive specialist, and the year before that it was a +2. Nichol's fiery spirit occasionally leads to outbursts, however, partly the consequence of being a small player doing brutally physical work - at times, the temptation to react and lash out is overwhelming. In December 2006 he was suspended for punching Buffalo's Jaroslav Spacek from behind after Spacek drove him into a goalpost, and a year later he was sat down for five games after cross-checking Montreal's Patrice Brisebois in the face (after an entirely different player hit him).
All in all, Nichol provides heady, responsible defensive work and has the ability to pop in the occasional goal or assist when the opportunity presents itself. The ideal fit for him would be a team that already has decent forward depth but needs to shore up its penalty killing. That might include his hometown of Edmonton, Dallas, or perhaps New Jersey. No matter where he ends up, his never-say-die style of play and affable personality are sure to make him a fan favorite.
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