Nick Oliver was the Nashville Predators' 4th-round choice (110th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and he currently plays for the Fargo Force of the USHL,the top junior hockey league in the United States. A broken collarbone derailed most of last year for him, but now his development is back on track and college hockey is on the horizon for next season.
Nick was good enough to give me a few minutes of his time before a recent practice for the following interview...
Q: First of all, how's your season going thus far? The Force are in 2nd place in the Western Division at this point.
Oliver: Things have been going really well. For the first 20 games or so we were at the .500 mark, but ever since then we've turned it on, it's been something like 20-straight games that we've taken at least a point. We just came off a pretty big winning streak. It took us a while to get going as a team, but we've been able to close a big deficit between us and Omaha. If you look at the standings a couple months ago nobody would have said you could even touch Omaha, but with 20 games left to go in the season we're in a good position.
Q: I understand last season you had some collarbone injuries that cost you quite a bit of time, is everything OK there now?
Oliver: Yeah, I broke my collarbone when I was here last fall and only played 7 games with Fargo, but now it's in good shape.
Q: Tell about the experience of going through that injury and the process of getting back into the game. One of the things the Predators often talk about is looking for guys who demonstrate the character traits necessary for success as a professional, and that dealing with an injury is one opportunity to evaluate that.
Oliver: It's obviously something you never want to go through, but in this sport things happen like that. With that time off the rink, you can dwell on it, be sad about it, or use it as a positive - mentally recharge and do whatever you can to get back in game shape. Even though I would have liked to have been healthy last year, it was ultimately a good thing to go through. It's not like this will be the last injury I'll have in my career, so it's good to learn how to fight through that adversity.
Q: Looking at the road ahead, is the plan to play college hockey next year?
Oliver: Yup, I'll be playing at St. Cloud State.
Q: What is it about St. Cloud State that you look forward to?
Oliver: The coaches really have the program headed in the right direction. Last year in the NHL Draft, they had as many kids drafted as the University of North Dakota, which is a traditional college hockey powerhouse. I like the campus, the arena & facilities, and especially the atmosphere at the games, it's one of the best in college hockey. I'm just really excited to get down there next year.
Q: I was looking through the list of NHL players that have come out of St. Cloud, and it's a pretty impressive group - Bret Hedican, Mark Parrish, Ryan Malone...
Oliver: They're starting to get more and more NHL draft picks each and every year. Once you get guys like that who have played there and gone on [to the NHL], it just gets you that much more excited to be there.
Q: For fans in Nashville who haven't gotten a chance to see you play, how would you describe yourself as a player?
Oliver: I'd say a power forward, who plays the game with some skill. I've got a big frame and play a physical game. I like to go the net and make things happen, and I'll always be one of the harder-working guys on the ice, whether it's blocking a shot, or making a play off the end of my stick, I take pride in the little things like that.
Q: In your video profile you had a really off-the-wall choice for your Favorite NHL Player... Wendel Clark. Now, he hasn't been in the league for 10 years, and he had his best years with the Maple Leafs when you were 2 or 3 years old. How'd you get stuck on him?
Oliver: Last year, some of my teammates and I were going through YouTube looking at some hockey videos, and we came across the Wendel Clarke Tribute Video. I don't know if you've ever seen it, but it's pretty fun - it always got us going when we watched it, so ever since then we fire it up once in a while.
Here, for a bit of background, is the video in question:
Q: Last summer you came to the Predators Development Camp, what was that experience like for you?
Oliver: I though it went well, it was a great opportunity to meet all the staff and get to know how they run things, not only on the ice but all the off-ice stuff as well. It was just good to get out there and meet all the players in the organization, to start building relationships with those guys, because you'll be playing with them someday. I learned a ton in the off-ice meetings there about nutrition and the mental side of the game, I took a lot out of that which I'm using in Fargo this year.
Q: Which of the other Predators prospects are you familiar with? I understand you played in last year's Ivan Hlinka Tournament with Zach Budish, for example.
Oliver: I've talked to a few of them, but me and Budy ,we probably talk every few weeks. He's at (University of) Minnesota this year, having a really good season, and it's just fun to be able to share experiences with friends like that, and make new friends in the organization as well.
Q: Do you look forward to playing against Budish when St. Cloud plays Minnesota next year (both schools are members of the WCHA)?
Oliver: Yeah, St. Cloud just swept Minnesota recently, so I'm pretty excited about that, because Minnesota's always the team that if you don't play for them, you kinda hate 'em. The other teams in the WCHA, they're always going after them.
Q: Do you still have ongoing contact with the Predators as your season progresses?
Oliver: I've talked to [Director of Player Development] Martin Gelinas a few times, and I've also talked with [Preds' North American Amateur Scout] Dave Westby a few times. They call about every month just to check in on how things are going, and wish me luck for the rest of the year. It's always exciting to hear from those guys.
Thanks to Nick for his time, and obviously we'll be watching from here in Nashville to see how his amateur career progresses.
Lastly, thanks to a pointer from Jim Diamond at the Nashville Predators Examiner, we have a video profile of Nick from the Fargo Force: