Predators' Mr. Big Shot

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Shea Weber is proving to be more than just a big shot from the point.

The Nashville Predators defenceman is developing into one of the premier blue liners in the NHL.

There's already talk Weber could be in consideration for the Norris trophy as the league's best defenceman at the end of the season.

"Once we saw Shea in his first training camp, we knew he had a lot of the special qualities to be an elite player," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz.

"It was just a matter of taking that game from junior to the American League and then to the NHL. There have been no surprises there. His preparation and his discipline in making himself a better player is all there. He's very mature in those areas.

"The question I'm asked is whether he's a Norris trophy type of guy, and he is. He's going to be one of those guys that's going to be mentioned for the next 10 years. And probably based on importance to a hockey team, he's probably been the most important defencemen on a hockey team in our league through the first 34 games."

26 POINTS

Heading into last night's contest against the Edmonton Oilers, Weber was the third-leading scoring defenceman in the league. His 26 points were three back of Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks and just one behind New York Islander Mark Streit.

Weber's 11 goals tie him with Boyle for the league lead, and he's currently second in team scoring behind J.P. Dumont.

"I like to contribute at both ends," Weber said. "I don't like to do just one thing, I like to play physical, take care of my own end and chip in, shoot the puck and get some points when I can."

Selected by the Predators in the second round - 49 overall - of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Weber's shot is growing in reputation with every game he plays and every opponent it takes out.

Detroit Red Wings defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom was the latest casualty, injured on Friday when he took a Weber blast off the foot. Weber's become one of the Predators biggest weapons this season.

"I really don't feel like I did a good enough job identifying that in our last game against them," Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish said prior to last night's contest.

"I remember after the game, I thought I let one slip by in terms of focusing more on him on the face-off and the shooting lanes. We did it on the power play, but not on the one-timers from the faceoffs. We should have been focused on that a bit more, but I wasn't. We won't make that mistake (again)."

In October's 3-1 win over the Oilers, the Predators scored two goals off point shots from Weber.

One was tipped in front and the other blew past goalie Mathieu Garon.

"I've always loved to go out in the yard and just shoot the puck," Weber said. "My brother and I would go out there and shoot around so that's probably how my shot developed and it got harder as I got bigger and stronger."

HARDEST SHOT?

The question going into last night's game was whether Weber's shot was a hard as Sheldon Souray's? The Oilers defenceman is considered to have the hardest shot in the league and has 10 goals for the Oilers this season.

"I don't know, he shoots the puck really hard," Weber said. "It's unbelievable how hard he shoots the puck, I don't really know how hard I shoot the puck, but I know he shoots it really hard."

The question should be answered during the skills competition at the all-star game where both players are expected to be in attendance.

Yet the key to having a cannon from the point is the ability to use it properly. Like Souray, for Weber it' not just about unloading at every opportunity.

"It's just like Sheldon Souray, they both have bombs," Trotz said. "You just want to get it on net and make sure it doesn't get blocked. You don't always have to shoot to score and he's learning that.

"Early on, he was trying to score on every shot and they were getting blocked or not hitting the net, but now he's realizing there's use in his shot by just getting it to the net."


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