Just like his on-again, off-again Twitter account, last season was a tale of two different Rich Clune’s.
Claimed off of waivers from the Los Angeles Kings on January 15th, team management and coaching staff hoped that not only would Clune be an equal replacement for a recently departed Jordin Tootoo, but also bring in a high amount of energy to bolster the bottom six forwards in Nashville’s lineup:
“This is a player we had written down as a forward, that if he came available, we would be very interested in. Hopefully this is one that got away [from the Kings]. [Clune is] an energy-type of player, a little bit like Jordin Tootoo, he brings that element to the team. He’s a fearless type of player, plays hard all the time, will engage in fisticuffs if necessary, he’ll make a real good team player. It feels like it’s a good fit and he’s real excited for the opportunity.” – General Manager David Poile
David Poile’s hopes for Clune came to a much needed fruition, as the energetic agitator quickly turned into a fan favorite in Nashville, showcasing throughout the season that he had more up his sleeve than just a keen knack for “fisticuffs”. Finishing the year with four goals, five assists, and 113 penalty minutes (fifth highest in the NHL), Clune made a lasting impression on the fans, the team, and the league. In doing so, he was rewarded with a two year extension that will kick in after this season.
Yet, in the abbreviated season that was shortened by a lockout last year, there were two clearly different versions of Rich Clune: pre-jaw injury and post-jaw injury. Prior to the injury he sustained on February 10th, Clune had amassed one goal and five fights (a total of 29 penalty minutes) in just 11 games. While healing his jaw and wearing a cage on his helmet, Clune learned to restrain himself as fighting wasn’t an option. After the cage came off, his play style seemed to change for the better. In the 36 remaining games of the season, while he healed from the injury and after the cage was removed from his helmet, Clune registered three goals, five assists, and only seven fights. Clune hasn’t lost his feisty agitating ways, but the injury forced him to adapt while he was unable to drop the gloves.
What’s could be the most striking fact for Clune’s was his on-ice presence last year. Through the recording of advanced statistics, Clune was beneficial not just to his linemates but to the goaltender in net for the Predators that night. Nashville’s team on-ice save percentage was highest when he was on the ice last season, an astounding .947 save percentage. He’s also one of only two players that remain on Nashville’s active roster that drew at least one penalty per sixty minutes last year.
Considered one of the team’s toughest player and already proving himself after being forced to change how he approached the game during the previous season, Clune can anchor Nashville’s main foundation as the team tries to reclaim it’s identity. There’s no reason why the Predators shouldn’t expect to see the latter version of Rich Clune night in and night out this year. If his play last season is an indication of what could be expected this season, Clune will easily demonstrate why he was worth the two year, $1.7 million dollar extension.
Everyone should remember this clip of Rich Clune against the Dallas Stars, but in case you’ve forgotten:
Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua
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