Sports

Sticking in the NHL harder than making it there: Bartley

Victor Bartley of the Nashville Predators plays against the Colorado Avalanche in  game last season.  - John Russell/NHL via Getty Images
Victor Bartley of the Nashville Predators plays against the Colorado Avalanche in game last season.
— image credit: John Russell/NHL via Getty Images

Now that he’s made it to the National Hockey League, Victor Bartley can clearly see his next goal – staying there.

That second aspect of being a pro in the top hockey league in the world presents a challenge that is equal to the long climb that got him there, says Maple Ridge’s latest NHLer.

Bartley was one of the promoters of the alumni charity game that was played Saturday night at Planet Ice in Maple Ridge.

Even casual hockey fans could see the difference in his NHL-honed game, compared with that of some of his former Rustlers brethren – themselves a group of accomplished players. The crisp, tape-to-tape passes, the slick puckhandling and powerful skating stride would enable anyone to “spot the NHLer.”

Bartley said he enjoyed a good rookie campaign with the Nashville Predators. They carried seven defencemen, and so he managed to get into 50 games. Including 24 games he played the season prior, Bartley has a goal and 13 points in 74 games.

“Overall, when I had the opportunity to play, I thought I played well,” he said.

“I really managed the third period quite well at times.”

In his first season, Bartley had been on a roll in the minors, and came to the big club as a top-four defencemen. He was thrown in the deep end, and relished the opportunity.

“It was great actually, my first 24 games I was averaging top-four ice time on the team. I was averaging over 20 minutes per night. It felt great to play those minutes.

As a young defenceman, 26, who wants to establish himself as an everyday NHL blueliner, could there be a better place to learn than in Nashville?

“There’s really not. We have so many high-calibre NHL defencemen there with Shea Weber, Roman Josi and especially our defensive coach Phil Housley, who is one of the best American players there ever was.

“To learn from them on a daily basis has been great. It’s been phenomenal for my learning experience so far.”

He said the secret to the Predator’s success with their defencemen, who have included the likes of stars Ryan Suter, Cody Franzen and Dan Hamhuis, is giving the players time to develop.

“They just take their time, they don’t rush players into the NHL right away – that doesn’t happen very often. We all paid our dues in the minor leagues, learning from the coaches down there, and learning the system. You know what it takes to get to the NHL,” he said. “And the biggest thing is not even getting there, it’s being able to stay there – that’s definitely the hardest thing.”

Playing against the biggest stars in hockey, it might be surprising who he found arguably the toughest guy to defend.

“One of the toughest forwards to play against probably I’d say was definitely T.J. Oshie – because he’s a small stature guy and he’s so shifty, but he’s still very, very strong in his core. His centre of gravity is great. Trying to knock him off the puck was almost impossible.”

Ask him his goals for next year, and Bartley doesn’t have to think for a second.

“I want to be a full time NHl player, a guy that the Predators can rely on each and every night, and I want to lead our team in hits and blocked shots as well.”

He proved he can play some offence, with 39 points in 76 games for the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL in his 2011-2012 rookie season with them.

But points aren’t in his goals.

“It’s going to be tough in that our back end has so much skill, and I realize that power play is not really my future in Nashville. To maintain, and be able to stay in the league, I have to do something that’s going to stand out.”

“I want to get established as a bona fide NHL defenceman, and when my contract is up we’ll go from there.”

 

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