The Nashville Predators played their first game of the season Thursday in a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. One of the players not on the ice, nor on the roster for that matter, was Steve Moses.
Moses, 26, is under a one-year, one-way contract worth $1 million. Since the one-way contract would pay Moses equally at the NHL and AHL levels, it appeared to be a certainty that he would make the team. That happened to not be the case. Moses struggled in training camp and preseason due to a “lack of confidence,” and it forced the Predators to send him to the Milwaukee Admirals, the club’s AHL-affiliate, to adjust his game.
“I was disappointed,” said Moses of being cut. “I came back [to North America] from the KHL to play in the NHL. That was my reason for coming back. [Playing in the AHL] is not what I wanted, but it’s part of the process. I knew it was going to take some time to adjust to the game over here. So, I’m trying to take the positive out of it and use the early part of the season to get acclimated to the [North American] game. It’s not what I wanted, but you can take some positives out of it and gain some confidence.
“I think it was probably the right decision for the coaching staff to send me here and get accustomed to the game, since when I was in Nashville, I was maybe a little bit unsure of myself. I can get some games here, and hopefully it can translate [to the NHL].”
In four preseason games, Moses tallied just one assist and a minus-four rating.
“Whether it was the ice surface or playing in the NHL, maybe I was a little bit uncomfortable on the ice,” Moses said. “The game is really mental. It’s more about getting that belief that you belong here, and maybe I didn’t have that [in the preseason].”
Instead of donning the gold and navy in Bridgestone Arena, Moses was in Milwaukee preparing for the season opener Saturday night against the Chicago Wolves.
“It’s a great city, awesome town,” Moses said of Nashville. “I’m doing everything I can to get out of [Milwaukee] as quickly as I can.”
On paper, a player like Moses does not belong in AHL. He broke the KHL single-season goal-scoring record by netting 36 in 60 games for Jokerit Helsinki last season.
“It was a pretty special year,” Moses recollected. “I played on the same line with Linus Omark and Petr Koukal, and we became really good friends. We had good chemistry on the ice and enjoyed playing together. We got rolling at the beginning of the season, and we just kept it going.”
Moses’ path to the KHL is an interesting one. After graduating from the University of New Hampshire, Moses played nine regular season and playoff games on an amateur tryout agreement with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale in 2011-12. With the NHL locking out due to disputes over the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Moses signed with Jokerit of the Sm-Liiga and stayed with the organization for the next three seasons. In his third season with Jokerit, the club was bought by a group of Finnish-Russian businessmen and switched leagues from the Sm-Liiga to the KHL.
“It was a different path, but it really worked out for me and helped me develop a lot as a player,” Moses said.
Having a record-breaking season in arguably the second-most competitive hockey league in the world is going to draw interest from NHL teams. Reportedly, Moses was offered by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs, but he chose the Predators, instead.
“I spoke to management and the coaching staff and felt the way that [the Predators] play suited my game well,” Moses said. “I know they have a great team up there. It’s going to be contending in the future if not this year. They had a great run last year in the playoffs, and I thought it’d be good to be a part of that.”
Across the pond in North America, not many knew of Moses and his scoring abilities. His popularity rose after scoring a back-hand, top-shelf goal on Pekka Rinne at the 2015 World Championship.
“[Rinne’s] one of the best, if not the best goalie in the world,” Moses said. “Peks is an unbelievable guy, and we definitely joked about it. You don’t score too much on him, so you have to cherish them. That game is definitely one I will remember for a long time, and that goal was definitely the highlight.”
Moses being cut is not the first time he has faced adversity. At 5-foot-9, 175-pounds, being undersized is difficult to overcome in hockey. However, smaller players are starting to become a trend in today’s less-physical NHL. Players like Jiri Hudler, Patrick Kane, Tyler Johnson, Brad Marchand and Martin St. Louis prove that undersized players can be effective in the NHL.
“When there are players of similar stature that have seen success, it gives [me] confidence that it can be done,” Moses said. “The game is allowing smaller guys to use their skills a little bit with not so much holding and pinning guys in the corner.”
Moses may not be in the NHL right now, but he is surely first in line for a call-up.