In the summer of 2011, the Nashville Predators flexed their scouting muscle to land a free agent playing in Europe.
A North American free agent.
In the years leading up to that fateful day, defenseman Victor Bartley played out his junior eligibility with the Kamloops Blazers and Regina Pats of the WHL but went undrafted. He then played in the minors before signing a deal that would bring him to the Swedish Elite League.
It was there — in Sweden — that he was noticed and courted by NHL clubs.
“When that season was over, I had actually signed in the Swedish Elite League for another year,” Bartley said. “But my agent called and he was actually laughing. He said ‘You know I told you there was a chance of coming back here to North America. I’ve got a couple offers for you.’ I said ‘Yeah but I don’t want to play in the American League,’ and he said ‘No, they’re NHL.’ I was like ‘No way.’”
Three years and 10 months later, the Preds have gone back to that well.
This morning, it was announced that they had signed free agent forward and KHL leading goal scorer Steve Moses. He signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $1 million and, according to various reports, Nashville beat out the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Toronto Maple Leafs and others for his services.
“I was only dealing with teams that were going to be offering one-ways,” Moses, 25, told TheGameNashville.com. “So I think the money was pretty similar everywhere. The franchise and the direction it’s headed in were probably the ultimate factors in choosing to come here.”
Well, isn’t that nice to hear? So often the Predators have been overlooked by young free agents for that exact reason. There was Stephane Da Costa in 2011 (Ottawa Senators), Danny DeKeyser in 2013 (Detroit Red Wings) and, most recently, Kevin Hayes in 2014 (New York Rangers).
The Leominster, Massachusetts native is a tad undersized at 5’9” but Predators fans shouldn’t be worried about that given the fact that a similarly sized player named Steve Sullivan performed at nearly a point-per-game clip during his first four seasons in Music City (190 points in 191 games).
As with any life-altering transition, it always helps to have someone close by who’s been there before. In Moses’ case, that’s Bartley. Their unorthodox paths to the NHL are eerily similar. Both went undrafted despite wearing letters for their final teams (Moses wore an “A” for the University of New Hampshire and Bartley wore the “C” for Regina), both played some minor league hockey before crossing the Atlantic and both honed their craft once overseas to culminate in an NHL deal.
“The draft happens when you’re young – as a 17 or 18 year old kid – and I remember being disappointed that I wasn’t chosen,” Moses said. “But there are enough examples in the League today to where I never counted myself out.”
Those examples include two-time Art Ross Trophy winner Martin St. Louis, two-time All-Star Dan Boyle and even former Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky.
Obviously Moses is a long ways away from those names but the fact remains that undrafted players can find success in the National Hockey League. They just need a chance.
“It’s a big process,” Bartley recalled. “At the time, you don’t think it’s a possibility [to play in the NHL] but then you go overseas, have a big year and then come back over. You’re excited to show teams what you have. I’m sure it’s a very exciting time for him.”
“When you’re coming out of college, getting an NHL contract and playing in the NHL is all you’re thinking of,” Moses said. “But, going over to Europe, I was very happy there, it was a lot of fun, I had a good life and it was very enjoyable. I would’ve been happy continuing to play there. But, with the opportunities that I had over here, it was kind of a no brainer. It’s a dream come true to be able to sign this kind of deal and be put in a position where, hopefully, I can be successful.”
While that NHL opportunity will have to wait until next season, Moses will get to see how he stacks up against NHL-caliber competition when he suits up for Team USA at the 2015 World Championships in April. After that, he said he’ll return to Nashville and begin training in order to earn his spot with the big club.
“He should just take the time, enjoy the moment and be happy that his dream is finally coming true,” Bartley said.
After all, he would know.
PHOTO CREDIT: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva