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Nashville Predators are finally 'finding their stride' -- and a new leadership core

Defensemen Roman Josi and P.K. Subban have each helped fill the void left by former Predators captain Shea Weber in their own way. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO -- The early-season struggles of the Nashville Predators weren't just about a team trying to find cohesion with new parts on the ice.

It was just as much about Nashville redefining its leadership core following the departure of former captain Shea Weber as well as other veterans such as Barret Jackman, Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom.

And what you're seeing now, perhaps -- as the Preds have picked up points in six straight games (4-0-2) heading into their game Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs -- is a team that has defined its pool of leaders through that early adversity.

"When you lose a lot of players, not just Shea, guys are figuring out where their spot is early in the season," new captain Mike Fisher said on Tuesday after the team's morning skate. "So it's all kind of new on the ice as well as off the ice. I feel like we went through a stretch where we realized we were a lot better than we were but [figured], 'Let's learn through it.' I feel like we're coming out better on the other side. We're figuring out how we need to play, our identity.''

Added alternate captain James Neal: "Everyone is going through the change with new roles, a lot of younger guys, and new faces. That's part of it. But we knew we'd come out of it. It's all part of hard work.''

It's also part of the legacy that a guy like Weber left behind. Go around the Predators' room like I did on Tuesday, and you'll see the players' faces light up when asked to put into words what their former captain meant to them.

"He had an amazing presence," said winger Colin Wilson. "He's one of the best guys I ever played with, best leaders, that's what he's known for. He set the tone every single day.''

The way Weber handled his day-to-day approach still influences his former teammates.

"Just seeing him working hard every practice, every day in the gym ... he never took a day off. He was just a true professional," said defenseman Mattias Ekholm. "It was a pleasure to grow into the league with a guy like that as a leader. You feel how blessed you've been to have had a guy like that to look up to, and try to be as good as him every day.''

As his Montreal Canadiens teammates are learning, Weber sets the tone by what he does, not so much what he says.

"He wasn't a huge talker,'' Wilson said. "It's more that he showed up, and when you have a leader who's dialed in every single day, every practice ... . He never took any days off, he led by example. He's an intense guy and he's somebody you wanted to play for. He's also a lot of fun, he kept the dressing room pretty light.''

Added Neal: "Shea's just a great guy, a great person, a great hockey player. He didn't need to say much. That's the kind of leader he was and the kind of guy he is. When there were problems, he would be able to hide them. He put his work in every day, and if you didn't put the work in with him, you were falling behind. All great leaders are like that. He was a fun guy to play with.''

Talented blueliner Roman Josi, an alternate captain, is growing into a bigger leadership role.

"It's definitely kind of new for a lot of guys," said Josi. "You just kind of grow into a leadership role and try to learn from the older guys. You try to get more comfortable with it.''

The player acquired for Weber, the dynamic P.K. Subban, is part of that group of guys who can each lead in their own way. For Subban that means delivering on the ice (the defenseman is tied for fourth in goals, with three, and points, with eight), but also trying, in times of adversity like the Predators had in the opening month (losing six of their first eight games) to keep the right frame of mind at the rink.

"It has been a challenge. I really believe that a lot of the outcome of whatever the situation you're in is determined by your attitude and how you approach it," Subban said on Tuesday. "I always approach everything with a positive attitude. I seem to get more success doing that than anything else.''

Picked by many before the season as serious Stanley Cup challengers, the Predators are showing signs of becoming that team. And Ekholm said the early-season losses, while frustrating, might have been a blessing in disguise because they forced everyone in the room to understand what it was going to take.

"I think we can be a contender, but not unless everyone works hard and understands their roles and what have you," said Ekholm. "We have strong leaders in this room still with a lot of the older guys. We got a lesson in the beginning and now we're finding our stride. We just have to keep at it.''