Viktor Arvidsson: The Woodpecker Can Fly

Perhaps the Nashville Predators’ most conspicuous player this season has taken everybody by surprise. In many ways, we were right not to expect it to happen, judging from the first impression of his NHL entrance, but we were bound to be wrong. That has been the way Viktor Arvidsson gets around during his whole career: proving people wrong.

To understand in what sense Arvidsson has worked against all odds, even from the beginning, you have to understand where he stems from. He was born in Kusmark, in the north of Sweden, a small village even for those measurements, having less than 500 people as its population. It was remarkable even when he made it as a pro hockey player in the Swedish Hockey League. Now it’s something beyond that.

At the same time, it’s no coincidence that he’s gotten to this point. The more intriguing question is what makes Arvidsson shine so bright in the NHL? Why do we love him so much for it? And can he keep going?

Suiting Nickname

Arvidsson has always been a special kid. The 23-year-old, who was drafted by the Preds in the fourth round in 2014, had already made himself a fan favorite in Skellefteå by then. Back in 2010, during his junior years, Arvidsson got nicknamed by his team’s goaltender coach as “the Woodpecker from Kusmark.” In the same manner woodpeckers hammer their beaks on tree trunks, Arvidsson was known for always knocking his stick on the ice. When asked about it, ‘Arvie’ said, laughing: “Yeah, I really wanted the puck.”

He’s still the same to this day. If anything, that well-suited nickname illustrates his hunger and love for hockey, which is so outright that it has never mattered that he’s one of the smallest players in the game (only 5 feet 9 inches), nor that he grew up in a place where the conditions for success weren’t as accessible as in bigger towns.

Breakthrough Year

One who strives long enough will get rewarded for it. Now, woodpecker Arvidsson has learned how to fly, and we only wonder, how high can he go?

After 56 games last season, Arvidsson had scored 16 points, equally divided into eight goals and eight assists, to compare with his 29 games so far this season. With 10 goals and 19 points, he’s already surpassed that number and he’s on pace for almost 30 goals before the season ends. Of course, Arvidsson has improved every aspect of his game, but most of all, he hasn’t really changed anything. He has stuck to the basics: working hard, playing with passion, producing goals – and that’s why he appears to be so widely appreciated within the Preds fan community, but surely also by most hockey fans in general.

As Predators coach Peter Laviolette put it: “His work ethic is through the roof. And that makes him not only a really good player but easy to like as well.”

Following his breakthrough, the Predators would probably have trouble explaining a decision to leave Arvidsson unprotected for the upcoming NHL expansion draft this summer. He has made his case to stay in Nashville.

Performance & Pressure

Another Nashville favorite, P.K. Subban, was recently asked which teammate had surprised him the most. Without hesitation, he named Arvidsson.

“I knew he was a good player when I got here, but I didn’t know he could elevate his game to the way he’s playing now”, Subban said. “That says a lot about him. But with that elevation comes expectations, and that’s what we expect from him every night.”

I think we can all agree that it’s easier to break through from underneath, not above. That’s what Arvidsson has been doing, but perhaps the toughest test of his career will be to maintain his performance over a longer period of time. Soon, people will start to notice more when he doesn’t score than when he does, and the challenges he might face can all of a sudden turn most fans around. Just look at Filip Forsberg.

What speaks for Arvidsson’s advantage here is that he, as opposed to a player like Forsberg, isn’t as reliant on point production and skill to look good. What matters the most is really his attitude, almost having his heart visible on the jersey, which he can always have control over.

For that reason, we shouldn’t raise expectations saying that Arvidsson will position himself north of 25 goals every season from here. But even if he did, that wouldn’t be why people love him so much, would it?