There were a couple times in the first period Tuesday when Austin Watson got rid of the puck so quickly that it seemed he didn’t care where it went.
Then in the third, he put it right where he wanted. His first NHL goal put the Nashville Predators ahead to stay in a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames and showed some of the skill that made him the 18th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
“You can tell, there’s moments when it seems fast and there’s moments like when he scored the goal he had lots of poise,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Those are the things young guys go through.”
Most young guys, though, don’t go back and forth between the NHL and the AHL on a game-to-game basis as Watson and a couple others have done lately.
Nashville has required regular reinforcements because of a multitude of injuries to forwards. At the same time its AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, needed as many of its best players as possible for its pursuit of a playoff spot, which ultimately was successful.
So it was that Kevin Henderson and Daniel Bang were recalled, reassigned and recalled again — all within a four-day span. Watson went down and back in a single week.
“The systems are fairly similar,” Watson said. “There’s changes here and there, but it’s about playing hard and playing your game wherever you’re at. We’ve got a good group of guys here that help us out — the guys that are coming back and forth. We’re just trying to make a difference both places.”
Nobody was sent to Milwaukee on Wednesday. Instead, all three made the trip to Detroit, where the Predators and Red Wings will meet for the final time as division rivals Thursday (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).
The regular season concludes Saturday with a game at Columbus, but in between the Admirals open the Calder Cup playoffs Friday at Milwaukee.
“Obviously they’re getting a lot of games in and a lot of time on the ice,” center David Legwand said. “They’re playing well for us too. They’re doing a good job and doing things the right way.
“They’re helping us out and helping Milwaukee out too — they’re in a tough situation down there with the playoffs starting in a couple days.”
If anything, the extra work seems to help their performances.
Henderson scored a goal in his NHL debut last Friday at Chicago. Watson finally got on the board against the Flames, the sixth NHL contest for both him and Bang, who was one of Nashville’s most consistently dangerous forwards.
“It’s got to be tough but at the same time I’m sure they’re excited to be playing in the NHL,” captain Shea Weber said. “The travel is definitely tough on your body, playing more games than usual. But I thin once you get up and into these games their adrenaline is running and they’re excited to be back up.”
Also Tuesday, Filip Forsberg registered his first NHL point (an assist) in his fourth appearance.
The trend, therefore, is clear. Even if they are interrupted by occasional trips to the AHL, each additional NHL contest tends to make things easier on those with little to no exposure to the sport’s highest level.
“I think it’s huge to gain that experience instead of throwing pucks away or making little mistakes I feel a little more comfortable,” Watson said. “There’s still a lot to learn. It’s only five or six games, but it’s a little more comfortable here and I’m just starting to find my way.”