Nashville Predators forward and team social media savant Rich Clune enters this season on the first year of a two-year contract that will pay him $1.7 million (AAV $850,000). Acquired via waivers from the Los Angeles Kings in January 2013 as the NHL began its lockout-shortened season, the enigmatic Clune earned this contract extension last summer, with still a full year left on his previous deal. With a regime change in the meantime, the Preds will be looking to repurpose Clune's rough-and-tumble style of play toward other ends.
Acutely aware of how his gifts stack up against the Preds' biggest needs, the Toronto native put himself through the ringer this summer to try to become faster, stronger, and more agile. He thinks he could help special teams tremendously, which could be a real difference-maker for a Nashville squad looking to return to the playoffs, and still on the prowl for its first Stanley Cup championship.
"I'm looking to be a penalty killer and average more ice time," said Clune on Monday afternoon. "[I want to] get on the ice against top lines eventually, and shut them down ... get in their faces."
If he can be consistent, Clune makes a lot of sense on the penalty kill: his skating ability, defensive instincts (he played defense growing up), and potentially increased speed could serve the Preds well. I personally would trade Clune setting a new career high in points for a better overall team PK% than the 25th-ranked "effort" the Preds put up on special teams last year.
"I worked on my skating and my shot all summer," he continued. "I want to eliminate unnecessary penalty minutes and improve on my point totals," said Clune. The wing's production slid backward last season to 7 points in 58 games after he posted a career-high 9 points in 47 games in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.
.@richcluneshow tells me he’s dropped some weight, is in the best shape of his life. "I want to be blazing fast this season. Speed kills."— George Scoville (@OTFGeorge) July 3, 2014
Today @richcluneshow told me he’s been working w/ skating & skills coach 3x/week for 2 mos. to become better on PK, offensive set-ups.— George Scoville (@OTFGeorge) August 25, 2014
"[The] team still needs me to be a wild card," says @richcluneshow, but "you should see the difference." Said in July he wants to pot 10 G.— George Scoville (@OTFGeorge) August 25, 2014
Having some fun with L-Sit rope climbs. Tough holding up those legs.
His hard work appears to have paid off.
Lean mean and 213 #KanamaHighPerformance
Does that mean he'll score more points than Colin Wilson? That's possible, especially if Willy never scores more than thirty-something. Former Preds enforcer Jordin Tootoo notched a career-high 30 points in 2011-2012, and Clune is fundamentally a better player than Toots was. That doesn't mean #16 isn't still a role player, and he surely needs to improve his penalty plus-minus (draw more than he takes). But he is a tremendous skater with really great vision on the ice, and he knows what to do and where to be when he doesn't have the puck. He has a nose for getting under opponents' skin, and could help create lots of turnovers, um, on the forecheck.
As for the rest of the summer, Clune, ever a team guy, made an appeal to the free agent market heading into July -- and he bragged on our bustling hamlet to his hockey idol Sean Avery:
Nashville- music, great food, great people, gorgeous women & no state income tax. It would take common sense to figure that out though kids.— Rich Clune (@richcluneshow) July 3, 2014
Explaining to @imseanavery how beautiful the city Nashville is. Photo cred @hilaryhrhoda
USA Today printed one of Clune's tweets over the summer, in which he expressed a unique level of enthusiasm for soccer.
I'm going to be sitting in my garden watching the plants grow all day because it's much more exciting than watching soccer. #WorldCupFinal
Clune joined InstaRadio over the summer, and spent half an hour talking about his recovery from addiction and alcoholism, which is well worth your time if you haven't listened to it yet.
Best Case Scenario
Clune adapts to Laviolette's system and becomes a reliable third line plugger capable of creating turnovers in the offensive zone, and either scoring himself or setting up a scoring chance, ahem, on the forecheck.
Worst Case Scenario
He fails to enlarge the scope of his game, remains stagnant as a new contract takes hold, but nonetheless racks up league-leading PIMs to buoy one of my fantasy rosters.
Career-high in goals for Clune. Double digits, even. I'm setting the over/under at 12. I also predict he will not finish in the top five in the NHL in PIMs or fighting majors this year.
Bloodhound. Fiercely loyal and highly intelligent, they have intense energy and are very inquisitive. They bark a lot and are often getting into some kind of trouble.