V ictor Bartley’s path to the NHL was anything but meteoric.
The trip took him through three AHL teams, an ECHL team and a season in Sweden, but on Friday night at Bridgestone Arena, the 25-year-old defenseman finally made his NHL debut with the Nashville Predators.
“It was a long time coming,” Bartley said. “I’m not your typical 20-year-old breaking in, I’m 25 now. But it was worth the wait and couldn’t have felt better.”
After taking a roundabout trip to land in the Predators organization, Bartley finally appeared to be on the cusp of breaking in. His play with the Milwaukee Admirals had been good enough to earn him a spot at the AHL All Star Classic in Providence in January and earned him a spot on the opening night Predators roster, albeit as a scratch.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Bartley said. “Not breaking in until I’m 25, I’ve been everywhere. I’ve played in the ECHL, the American (Hockey) League, I’ve played in Europe. Now I’m here in the NHL. Leading up to this year, playing consistent all year long, making the All Star team in the American League and being fortunate enough to come to training camp was great. Just being here with these guys at that first time and last year, it makes it a lot easier to come in right now and just jump into the mold of things.”
Regardless of Bartley’s play in Milwaukee, Nashville still carried seven defensemen on the roster. It took an injury to Hal Gill and a severe underperformance of the NHL club for the Predators to finally call him up.
Against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night, Bartley finally hit the ice in an NHL game for the very first time.
“It was good,” Bartley said. “Luckily the team played well tonight and the guys were helping me out a lot out there with a lot of talk from the whole back-end, especially from my partner Kevin Klein. I think they really helped calm me down tonight and just make plays.”
Bartley finished his NHL debut having played 19:15. His plus/minus was a zero, but the story of his game was simply “solid”.
The Predators walked away with a 6-0 win against the Oilers, which meant that in Bartley’s first game as an NHL defenseman, he was part of an NHL shutout. For Bartley, however, he was more concerned with being in the right place and keeping a consistent effort level.
“Tonight was more of a first game, just get my feet wet and make simple plays and just be hard-nosed defensively and have a good stick-night,” Bartley said. “That was my biggest thing coming into tonight’s game.”
While Bartley had a couple of days to prepare and stew over what appeared to be his impending first game, he credits Nashville head coach Barry Trotz with keeping the jitters away.
“Trotz actually did a good job of keeping me on my feet,” Bartley said. “He never gave said who he was going to play and didn’t give us any kind of hints at all. I had to come in every day to practice and be sure that I was one-hundred-percent. I thought I did that and thankfully I was in the lineup tonight.”
At the same time, Trotz was extremely complimentary of Bartley’s game and effort level.
“He played really good,” Trotz said. “I liked Victor’s game. Victor’s got good mobility. You can tell a lot about a player when in the last minute, there’s that hard grind behind the net and he’s battling some big bodies like Ben Eager and (Mike) Brown and he battled that and won the battle and got the puck out. That says a lot. There was a 225 pound guy who was pretty determined and he handled him pretty well. He’s got great mobility and he jumped up and played and got active.”
In his sixth professional season after literally going halfway around the world to get to where he is, Bartley can finally call himself an NHL player.
“Being up here is completely different and I couldn’t be happier where I am today,” Bartley said.
“He didn’t look like he played his first game,” Trotz said. “He was pretty solid.”
Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua