Whistle while he works

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

In Nashville, train whistles from the stands accompany Jordin Tootoo's presence on the ice.

It's a whistle Edmonton Oilers defenceman Mathieu Roy probably wished fans blew in Edmonton, having been run over by the Tootoo train the last time the Nashville Predators were here.

"I don't know how that got started," Tootoo said of the whistles. "I think it might be a southern thing. I'm pretty sure some fan just came up with it and went from there. It's pretty cool, though. I think they started doing it sometime last year."

RUNNING OVER OPPONENTS

Now in his fourth season with the Predators, Tootoo, 25, is still running over opponents - Roy was out for 10 games with a separated shoulder after getting plastered in the corner and eventually ended up back in the minors.

However, the five-foot-nine, 194-pound winger is starting to pick his spots.

Tootoo's not just simply a hitter anymore, he's contributing offensively.

"He's maturing on and off the ice," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. "That's a big part of it. Jordin came in with a lot of hoopla. He made the team with the big hits and by going after people, he was basically an energy hitter type of guy. In the last couple of years I've asked him to start developing the other parts of his game, because he had that in junior. But he got away from that because his identity was to run over people."

This year, Tootoo had nine goals and six assists in 47 games. He scored 11 goals in his first three years.

"I've been trying to focus more on making plays rather than looking for that big hit," Tootoo said. "I still have to be physical because that's the foundation of my game. I think it really intimidates players knowing they have to be aware of when I'm out there and they have to keep their heads up.

"But I'm looking to do more than that now. I think that comes with maturity. I'm holding on to that puck for that extra-second longer instead of being so nervous with it that you want to get rid of it right away."

Tootoo was the Predators sixth choice - 98th overall - in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. In his final year of junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings, he had 35 goals and 39 assists in 51 games while collecting 216 penalty minutes.

Intimidation was a big part of his game back then. There were players afraid to go in the corner to get the puck knowing they were going to be tattooed by Tootoo.

"He can't get away from the foundation of his game," Trotz said. "His foundation is that he hits like a truck, he's got good speed, people worry about him and he'll back it up. He's tough and he'll fight and he'll do all those things. But now he's starting to add to his skill level.

"He missed 20 games this year with an injury. He probably was on pace for a 15 or 16-goal season which is pretty good considering where he was. I think he has the potential as he keeps maturing, keeps working on his game and keeps trying to go forward as a player, I think he's capable of scoring 20 goals in this league and being a good second-line player."

HEAVY BURDEN

Apart from the on-ice expectations, Tootoo has a heavy off-ice burden as well. Being the first player of Inuit descent to play in the NHL there were a lot of demands on his time.

"He comes from a very diverse background," Trotz said. "He's had a lot of people pulling on him in a lot of different areas and he's been able to filter that out a little bit and realize that his bread and butter is playing in the National Hockey League."


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