Kjellberg brings honest approach to Nashville

Originally published on EuroReport.com in 2000

By Lucas Aykroyd

Some NHL players resort to easy clichés when assessing their personal performance: “I don’t think too much about it, just gotta put the team first, take it shift by shift.” Others, like Patric Kjellberg of the Nashville Predators, take a more straightforward, honest approach.

“I don’t think I have really been playing as well as I should,” Kjellberg told EuroReport after a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place on 9 January. “I think I have a way to go before I get back to that level I was at last year.”

He hasn’t been bad. The 31-year-old left wing from Trelleborg, Sweden logs a solid 18 minutes a night on average, second only to Scott Walker among Nashville forwards. Hitting the halfway mark of the season with 21 points (8-13-21), he was almost on pace to equal his career-best numbers from last year (23-23-46).

If Kjellberg is to play at his peak, it’ll be with the support of veteran playmaking center Cliff Ronning, Nashville’s all-time leader in all offensive categories. Kjellberg enjoyed considerable success playing with Espen Knutsen in the Swedish League, so it’s hardly a stretch for him to team up with the “Little Viking” (Ronning is of Norwegian ancestry). The two form a potent duo on the power play.

“Cliff gives me a lot of opportunities to score and get points,” said Kjellberg. “It’s always good to play with him, and you know, we’ve had different guys playing with us. I can’t complain about the partners I’ve had. It comes back to myself.”

Since 15 of Nashville’s next 17 games are against Western Conference opponents, now would be an ideal time for him to find the form that saw him lead the Elitserien with 30 goals for Djurgardens in 1997-98. The Predators can’t afford to fumble around the bottom of the conference standings much longer if they hope to grab the first playoff berth in franchise history.

“Every game for us is big. We’ve got a tough stretch here until about the first of February. We’ve got to stay in there and stay over .500.”

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Kjellberg’s performance with AIK Solna earned him a spot with a team that aspires to the ultimate prize each and every year: the Montreal Canadiens. They chose him 83rd overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to stick with them. He played just seven games in a Habs uniform in 1992-93, plus 41 more with Fredericton of the AHL.

“I’ve basically forgotten about that,” Kjellberg said. “It was fun coming over, but I wasn’t really ready, and they had a good team at the time. I wasn’t frustrated that they went on to win the Cup and I wasn’t involved, because I wasn’t good enough then. That’s the bottom line.”

One visible upgrade for him has been in the size department. In Montreal, he was listed at 6-2 and 196 pounds. He’s added an inch and 14 pounds in the intervening years. That helps him to play a solid game down low and get good position in front of the net.

By the age of 28, he decided he was ready to give the NHL another whirl. He signed with the Predators as a free agent on 27 June 1998. This year, he’ll earn $900,000, significantly more than he’d make back home.

“I thought it was a good step for me to try this again,” Kjellberg said. “I felt more secure. I talked it through with my wife and we decided to go over. It was a chance to play with a new team.”

It also didn’t hurt that Nashville is considered a musical mecca. He prefers jazz to country, though. On the pop side, Kjellberg favors Sting, the former lead singer of the Police, whose 1985 solo album Dream of the Blue Turtles was credited with breaking down barriers between jazz and rock.

“I’ve been a big fan since probably fifteen years back. He’s extraordinary as a musician and he involves himself in things to save this planet, which I think is good.”

Speaking of the police, Kjellberg has a background in law enforcement. He took a two-year sabbatical from the Stockholm police department to play hockey in the United States. It looks like he’ll be off the beat for some time to come. He kicked off the new millennium by appearing in his 200th career game versus Vancouver on 1 January. He’ll play a key role down the stretch in his third full NHL season.

If he could give one message to the Nashville fans, what would it be?

“Stick with us.”

You can’t get much more straightforward than that.

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