At 6’4″ and a listed 215 pounds, the Nashville Predators’ Zack Stortini clocks in as the biggest forward in Nashville’s camp.
“My physical presence is definitely something that’s a big part of my game,” Stortini said.
That might be an understatement.
When Stortini was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 3rd round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, he already had a reputation in junior as a player that you didn’t want to rub the wrong way on the ice. In 242 games with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, the young Stortini racked up an astounding 746 penalty minutes. At the same time, he scored a respectable 120 points.
His on-ice persona did not change when he entered the professional ranks. In his first full season in the AHL, splitting time between the Iowa Stars and the Milwaukee Admirals (the Oilers did not have an affiliate), Stortini rang up 456 penalty minutes in just 111 games. He also picked up a Calder Cup along the way while playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
In 2007, he finally cracked the Oiler’s roster, playing 29 games at the end of the 2006-07 season. As a taste of things to come, Stortini picked up 105 penalty minutes in those 29 games, but he also scored his first career goal, beating Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
In the next four seasons, Stortini played 227 more games with the Oilers, sitting in the box for 613 minutes while scoring 13 goals and assisting on 27 more. When one considers that Stortini rarely plays more than 7-8 minutes per game, his scoring rate is rather exceptional for an enforcer. In fact, he considers it one of his strengths.
After 8 seasons with the Edmonton organization, Stortini was placed on waivers in February. Once he cleared, he ended up with their AHL affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons for the remainder of the season.
A free agent this offseason, Stortini decided the time was right to move to a different organization and signed a two-way contract with the Predators.
“It’s very exciting for me to be here,” Stortini said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to come to a winning team like Nashville. There’s a great group of guys here and it’s a premiere organization for sure. It’s first class from top-to-bottom and it’s a real privilege to be here and be part of this group.”
Stortini knows that he will have to compete to make the roster. On a two-way contract and with a dearth of forwards in Nashville, it’s not unfeasible that he could find himself in Milwaukee’s training camp when Kirk Muller takes a group back at the beginning of next week.
“I have to play extremely hard,” Stortini said. “I have to play my game. I’ve got to bring what I do best and that’s being a physical presence and being hard to play against. At the same time, playing the game and being able to contribute offensively and being reliable defensively. I expect a lot out of myself. I’m able to contribute and be reliable on both ends.”
The way Stortini describes his game gives insight into why he was signed by David Poile – physical two-way play is almost by definition Nashville Predators hockey. At the same time, Stortini is not content to rely on his “tough guy” persona and hope that there is a need for that skillset in order for him to make the team.
“I’m continuously working on everything,” Stortini said. “I’m never satisfied with where I am, I’m always wanting to get better. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of great people here that are willing to work with me. There’s our skating instructor Shawn (Allard) who I’ve already spent time with working on my skating skills. Everyone in our coaching staff has done a great job already welcoming me and helping me to turn into a better hockey player. That’s my focus each and every day – just to become a better player.”
A native of Elliott Lake, Ontario, who played his junior hockey in Sudbury and has played the last four seasons in Edmonton, one could understand if Stortini had hesitation about coming into a “non-traditional” market. However, he says that’s not the case.
“I love this city,” Stortini said. I always looked forward to coming here when I wasn’t playing here and now that I’m playing here it’s a lot of fun being here. The people here are so nice and so warm and welcoming. It’s a great city – it’s easy to get around and there’s great restaurants. I’ve had a lot of fun with the guys and am enjoying training camp so far.”
As much as he loves Nashville, there still looms the realistic possibility that he begins the year in Milwaukee.
“My focus right now is on being with the Nashville Predators and trying to help this team in every way I can.”