SUN Hockey Pool

Hart work pays off

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

NASHVILLE -- From glaring down at Georges Laraque to looking up to Ryan Smyth, Scott Hartnell of the Nashville Predators has come a long way since he broke into the NHL as an 18-year-old.

How far?

As a rookie in the 2000-01 campaign, the strapping lad from Lloydminster was banging bodies against the Edmonton Oilers when he caught Laraque with his head down and knocked him on his backside.

The raw-and-ready Hartnell stood over Laraque for a second, then shoved him as he was trying to get up while casting a glance that said, "What are you going to do about it?"

Luckily for Hartnell, No. 27 did nothing.

With 402 NHL games on his resume already after last night's tilt against the Oilers, Hartnell is as willing as ever, although not nearly so naive, and there's more to his game.

Although he still bangs whenever he can, you'll find Hartnell doing extra work after practice tipping pucks, taking a page from Smyth's book, and working on his game. He's not the whole package, yet, but he's getting closer.

"I know coming in I didn't know much of anything," smiles Hartnell. "My game definitely needed some work.

"I remember just going around and trying to hit guys and get some energy. I was focused more on that than the other parts of the game."

Hartnell, still only 24, has played more games than any player taken in his draft year of 2000, when the Predators plucked him from the Prince Albert Raiders sixth overall.

"He was rough around the edges," says coach Barry Trotz, behind the bench for every one of Hartnell's games in the NHL. "He was a hard-nosed, hard-working kid.

"Through experience and being at this level, he's got some of those edges off. He learned what will be effective for him, and that's a lot of the things that Smyth does. He's more consistent in his game. His skill components are much better.

"It takes time. He was a bull in a china shop for us. He used to flounder around in practice, but he'd be first on the puck and hit the end boards. He's a little more refined now."

In his sixth season with Nashville, Hartnell is coming off his best campaign after scoring 25 goals and adding 23 assists last season. At six-foot-two and 215 pounds, he'll still send the china flying from time to time, but Hartnell has polished his game.

"Every year, I get more and more ice time and more responsibility," said Hartnell.

"My first year in the league, when I was 18, it was a learning year. I was playing third or fourth line and learning defensive responsibilities first. The next few years I was able to do things more offensively."

With 11 goals in his first 29 games, Hartnell is off to the best start of his career. A lot of that can be attributed to his willingness to play in the tough areas, where Smyth makes his living.

"He (Smyth) scores all his goals five feet from the net," Hartnell said. "I heard a couple years ago he tips 40-50 pucks after every practice. Look what he's done with his career.

"You hear things like that, what other guys do, and you try to tune them into your game. You're always learning and listening ... not everybody can do it, but I pride myself on going to those hard areas."


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