The initial installment of our jersey number series may have been a slam dunk, but things get much tougher today, as we consider the greatest players to wear the #3 in Nashville Predators history.
Follow after the jump for a list of candidates who combine toughness, skill, durability, and popularity, along with a double-dose of tragedy...
Bill Houlder (2000)
With 846 career NHL games for 7 different franchises, Houlder is another one of those career journeymen who provided the foundation upon which a competitive team was built in Nashville in the early years. Claimed off waivers early in the 1999-2000 season, it looks like Houlder only wore the #3 for one game, his November 11 1999 debut with Nashville in which he played only 6:35. He missed almost a month after that game and came back wearing #23 afterward, so we'll get more into his time with the Preds later on in this series.
Karlis Skrastins (2000-2003)
The very model of a steady, dependable defenseman, Skrastins enjoyed a long productive career which began in Nashville as a 9th round draft pick in 1998. He still holds the franchise record for consecutive games played with 269, two spots ahead of Houlder's 245. After a two-game trial run with the Preds in the 1998-99 season, in which he wore #40, Skrastins bore the #3 for the rest of his time with Nashville, playing 305 games with that number and recording 13 goals, 40 assists, 130 penalty minutes and a -49 rating (not surprising during the early days of the team).
While known as a stout defensive presence, Skrastins holds the signature distinction of scoring the first 3-on-5 goal in Predators' history, coming on October 15, 2002 in a road game against the New York Islanders. While I can't find video of the goal, Pete Weber provided audio of his call (mp3).
Skrastins was one of the victims in last September's tragic KHL plane crash, at the age of 37.
Marek Zidlicky (2004-2008)
Zids was one of the most offensively talented blueliners in team history, but his giveaways earned the ire of many fans. He stands 4th on the franchise list in goals (35), assists (140) and points (175) among blueliners.
After the 2007-2008 season, he was traded to Minnesota in exchange for Ryan Jones and a 2nd-round draft pick in 2009 (Charles-Olivier Roussel). At the trading deadline last season we was sent to New Jersey, where he helped the Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Wade Belak (2009-2011)
What can you say about Wade Belak? On the ice, he was the consummate enforcer (his 2009 fight with Donald Brashear is the stuff of legend), so his impact on wins & losses was undoubtedly less than the other members of this list. He was, however, one of the most popular players on the team, thanks to his infectious humor and outgoing manner.
His sudden, unexpected passing last summer rocked the team and the rest of the hockey world.
Like I said, this won't be an easy one to decide - who gets your nod as the greatest #3 in Nashville Predators history?