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Predators can lean on Schenn and Beauvillier for Canucks playoff prep

Ex-Canucks Luke Schenn and Anthony Beauvillier are special resources Nashville coach Andrew Brunette can draw on in preparing for their first-round playoff series.

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When the 2023-24 NHL season started, Anthony Beauvillier had playoff ambitions.

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He just thought they’d be with the Vancouver Canucks, not against them.

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“It’s good to be back,” he said Friday with a grin, as his new team the Nashville Predators skated at Rogers Arena for the first time ahead of their looming playoff date with the Vancouver Canucks.

And his early-season trade to the Chicago Blackhawks made the playoffs seem like an impossibility.

Then the Predators came calling, seeing a player with some zip who could add to their already quick approach to the game.

“To be wanted and be on the team that wants to be in the playoffs and making a push and here we are now… it definitely feels good,” the generally-upbeat Beauvillier replied.

Luke Schenn’s grin was equally wide when he was greeted by a gaggle of Vancouver reporters after Friday’s practice.

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Vancouver, obviously, is an important place for him. His family loved living here and he rediscovered himself as a hockey player too. He returned to Vancouver in 2021 hoping to help lead the team back to the playoffs but it wasn’t to be and was instead flipped at the deadline last year to a team that was headed to the playoffs in Toronto.

This season he took a fabulous contract offer from the Predators and a similar ambition: get to the playoffs.

The matchup against the Canucks did make him chuckle. Is there anyone in particular he’s got in mind that he’d like to hit first? He just smiled.

“It’s going to be hard fought both ways. And yeah, a lot of guys that play hard and it’s gonna be fun and just the building is gonna be rocking too,” he said. “We all know that. Obviously I know this fan base and the way people have been starving for playoff hockey. It’s going to be exciting and there’s going to be so much energy and emotion in the building.”

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The two players also bring special insights into the mentality of the Canucks, head coach Andrew Brunette admitted.

But only so much.

“(Beauvillier and Schenn) being here the last couple of years, they’ve got a pretty good feel of the group but like I said when the puck drops and things go it’s just hockey,” he said.

Still, Schenn can lend him insights into the personalities at play and Beauvillier can share some insights into the early tactical changes Tocchet imposed this season.

“Obviously I could sense there’s a lot of talent and potential here,” Schenn said, with another grin. You know he’s been following this team from afar, watching his teammates grow into the players he believed they should be.

Given Brunette is said to be one of the sharpest minds in hockey, you know he’s going to pull what he can from them.

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“One of the smartest hockey people that I ever played with,” hockey commentator Ray Ferraro said of his old teammate.

The rhetoric from players and coach, is, of course, focused inwardly.

The Canucks are a deep squad. Beauvillier knows this. And so his answer publicly to how Predators can beat the Canucks focused at his own room.

“We just got to focus on our game and do what we can do best: play fast and play hard. I mean, that’s all we can control,” he said.

His answer would have made Brunette proud.

Coaches love to talk about focusing on your own game, on what you do best, but you still need to know about the other side at some point.

Brunette is a master communicator, Ferraro said.

“He connected to all different parts of the team,” Ferraro said of what Brunette was like as a player. “It was different then too. Teams didn’t go out of their way or probably never thought how hard it was for Euros, for example, to feel comfortable. He was just easy with all. Terrific person.”

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You can see how that manner would help him as a coach.

It’s clear when you speak with Brunette’s players that this people-centered approach is a huge reason why he’s been such a successful coach. Similar to Vancouver’s Rick Tocchet, he’s highly in tune with the concept of emotional intelligence, empathizing with his players and helping them be the best versions of themselves.

The way his team has evolved over the season is a case in point: this is a much better team than the Canucks swept across three games before Christmas.

They were one of the league’s best offences in the second half and a solid defensive outfit too.

“It was just an understanding of what I was asking. And it’s hard,” Brunette said of connecting with his group. “It takes a little while to get used to what you’re asking them and for them to understand why I’m asking, why do we want to do certain things. And then you start seeing the results and then you start seeing OK, that’s why and I think that took a little while for us.”

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This is going to be a fascinating chess match.

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