Winger's play anything but Erat-ic

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

There isn't much flashy about Martin Erat.

Except those flashes of talent.

The Nashville Predators winger has plenty of speed, skilled hands and a solid wrist shot. He's a consistent contributor offensively and gets even more credit from his head coach for being a dynamic defender.

Aside from some deep hockey pools, however, Erat's name doesn't get mentioned in many circles.

"He's probably a really underrated player, just where our market is. If he played up here in Canada, he'd be getting a lot of attention," said Preds head coach Barry Trotz, who has had the pleasure of watching Erat develop over the past seven NHL seasons and figures he's the next face of the franchise.

"He really is a good two-way player, and now he's starting to express himself offensively a little bit more. We're getting him to shoot a little bit more."

Leading the Preds with six goals on the season heading into last night's game with the Calgary Flames, Erat should easily score 20 for the third time in his career. Heck, he could hit the 40-goal mark if he keeps up his current pace.

"I've always been more of a passer, but this year, I'm trying to see the puck around the net more and just trying to get it to the net as soon as I can," said Erat, admitting the team isn't as deep offensively as it has been in the past. "I have to become more of a scorer right now than a passer."

So far, so good for a team trying to seek scoring balance after losing Alexander Radulov to the KHL and has Steve Sullivan still sidelined with a debilitating back injury that may force him to retire.

Not that Erat hasn't been a big part of the offence since bursting onto the scene as a rookie in 2001-02 with nine goals and 33 points two years after the Preds drafted him 191st overall.

"He's played a fairly prominent role for us the last couple of years," said Trotz. "His ice time is probably not much different, but the expectations (are higher)."

Erat's own expectations are sky-high after signing a seven-year contract extension in the off-season. The 27-year-old knows what comes with a deal like the one that will pay him an average of $4.5 million a season through 2015.

"When you sign the long-term deal, you expect to be a leader on this team and be an elite player every game you come to the rink. That's what I'm trying to do," said Erat.

With all the uncertainty surrounding the ownership of the franchise, and the possibility it may be moved, committing to the club that long -- a franchise-high contract length -- wasn't as easy as you might think.

"No, it wasn't an easy decision to make," said Erat. "In the end, I've been here for seven years and the organization was great to me. I just tried to give the organization something back.

"I know how the city wants to win. Everyone says it's a small market and we can't do it, but I think we've got great players, and a great organization, and I think in the future, we're gonna be competing for a Stanley Cup every year."


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