“I don’t know if people quite understand that dynamic. I mean, yeah, you’re still part of the team and that’s great but it’s really hard to be on the outside looking in.”
Despite being a permanent staple in the Nashville Predators’ lineup now, Austin Watson knows a thing or two about sitting out.
“All you can really do is work,” he said. “It’s so cliché but it’s true. It doesn’t sound very good to you – ‘oh, just work.’ – but, really, that’s all you can do. You just have to wait for an opportunity. And you earn the opportunity to wait by your continued work ethic. Then, hopefully things progress a little better once you get back in the lineup.”
Being a healthy scratch is one thing. Watching games from the press box while injured is another. Just ask defenseman Roman Josi who missed 10 games last season with a concussion.
“It’s never fun,” the captain said. “You’re obviously part of the team but you feel like you’re not. You’re not playing games with the guys and you’re kind of on your own program.”
Or ask Ryan Ellis who, until January 2, missed every possible game since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“To be on the sideline is just part of the mental game,” he said. “It’s tough. They look like they’re having so much fun and they’re doing so well. But it is what it is. You just hope to bring some leadership and guidance along the way.”
One size doesn’t fit all, however.
“I think everybody approaches it differently,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “A veteran player, who might be out for different reasons, maybe just watches the game to watch it. A young player, we always try to give him some guidance on what they’re watching or who they’re watching or what they’re looking for. I think it’s different for different players. I don’t think one stroke of the brush covers everybody.”
One young player that immediately comes to mind when you think of Nashville’s roster earlier this season was Samuel Girard. After playing sparingly in an attempt (presumably) to delay his maximum nine-game cup of coffee at the NHL level, Girard was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche as a part of the deal that brought Kyle Turris to the Preds in November.
“I study,” Girard told me before he was dealt. “I try to look at Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, PK Subban, those guys. They’re great examples for me. So that’s what I do during the game. I watch those [guys] so, when they put me in the lineup, I’ll be ready.”
Now making a name for himself out in Denver, Girard is known as a highly-skilled offensive blueliner who can also play solid defense when called upon. Sounds a lot like some of the guys in Music City, right?
“I think it’s good to watch a player that is kinda the same as you,” he said. “I try to look at Josi and Subban and Ekholm. They’re good defensively, they’ve got a good stick, they’ve got a good breakout pass and they play on the power play as well. I think those defensemen are great examples for me.”
A guy would always prefer to play over not playing, of course. But are there some advantages from seeing the game from a different angle such as the press box?
“You definitely see a lot of things that you don’t see when you play,” Josi said. “Most of the time, when you play, you’re really focusing on your own game, obviously. But, when you just watch, you see other guys and you’re watching the game from a different view. If you see something, you definitely try to help the guys out and say something. Some guys might not see certain things while playing on the ice.”
“You’re looking at situations where guys may do different things,” the 2010 first round pick said. “Like, if I get it on the wall, as a winger, I might chip it a lot. Another guy might hold on to it and come back to the slot and you think ‘oh, maybe I should try that’ or ‘maybe that’ll work in this situation.’
“You pick up things all the time, whether you’re sitting out or not. Of course, some of us are capable of doing them and some of us aren’t. For example, I don’t try to replicate Filip [Forsberg] that much. But yeah, you just try to pick up little things you can use in your own game.”
There may be a unique opportunity to watch the game from a different perspective but, at the end of the day, players can’t wait for that perspective to be over.
“It’s tough when you’re not out there because you kinda feel left out,” Sissons said. “You don’t feel like part of the team sometimes. It’s frustrating. All of us are competitors and want to be great teammates, helping each other out. But it’s tough, for sure.”