NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The word annoying was used to describe Scott Hartnell following the Nashville Predators practice Wednesday afternoon.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The word annoying was used to describe Scott Hartnell following the Nashville Predators practice Wednesday afternoon.

To be clear, that was a totally unsolicited adjective, offered up by the veteran forward himself. Let's safely assume hundreds and hundreds of NHLers — present and past — over the last 18 seasons strongly agree with the assessment, likely with a few other choice words tossed in for colour.

A longtime shift disturber, Hartnell, 36, is expected to dress for his third game of the series Thursday when the Predators host the Winnipeg Jets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinal.

He's been held pointless in three games in the post-season but had an impact in Game 4, taking a couple of runs at Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien in Winnipeg and then flattening speedy Winnipeg winger Kyle Connor late in the second period of Game 6 at Bell MTS Place.

Incidents like those quickly make him a target, and that's exactly the kind of attention he desires.

"I think (being physical) wears on teams. It’s more annoying than anything. If you can make them think for a second that I’m on the ice or other guys that hit are on the ice, hopefully they can make some mistakes," said Hartnell. "When there’s a big hit, it gives your team a boost of energy.

"There’s nothing like giving a hit, a clean bodycheck. That’s part of the game, it’s always been and always will be. I’m sure it’s going to be a heavy, big Game 7 and I’m looking forward to that."

Preds centre Mike Fisher, injured in Game 6 in Winnipeg, is doubtful for the series finale. Hartnell was skating alongside centre Calle Jarnkrok and right-winger Ryan Hartman at practice at Centennial Sportsplex.

Hartnell said he's loving every minute of the intensity of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs and is very familiar with the role he's expected to perform.

"Just play hard, play our hearts out. That’s what it’s all about, and making sure we’re on the right side of pucks defensively. (Jarnkrok) has great puck skills, he’s a smart player and can distribute the puck. And me and (Hartman) will be parking our asses right in front of the net," he said.

Hartnell, who grew up idolizing Boston Bruins power foward Cam Neely, used to drop the gloves with regularity but those days are mostly over. He's directed his physical play to the areas deep in the offensive zone, where he can do the Preds some good without winding up taking needless penalties.

"I was very annoying when I started out. I've calmed down a little bit, I don't know if it's age or what. I just had a talk with (Hartman) making sure we're playing hard but playing smart," he said. "Discipline is probably the word of the day here."

This season has been a homecoming of sorts for Hartnell, who was selected by Nashville general manager David Poile in the first round (sixth overall) of the 2000 NHL Draft. That fall, he vaulted right from junior (Prince Albert Raiders) to the Predators lineup and would go on to play six full seasons in Music City, carving out an identity as a gritty agitator with a decent touch around the net.

The 6-2, 215-pound winger totalled 93 goals and 211 points in 436 games in his first stint with Nashville. From there, Hartnell spent seven seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers — playing for his current coach Peter Laviolette and scoring a career-high 37 goals in 2011-12. He then played three seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but had the remaining two years of his six-year, US$28.5-million contract bought out in June 2017.

Hartnell returned to Nashville after 10 seasons away, agreeing to a one-year, US$1-milliion contract offered by the same GM who drafted him.

"It was a no-brainer. I was a big fan of this team (in 2017) during their playoff run, watching the players and what they could do, and I felt I could bring value to that," said Hartnell. "This city has changed so much in the 10 years I've been gone. The passion for hockey, the love of the sport here, has gone through the roof, so I'm really excited about that."

Hartnell has played mostly fourth-line minutes this season and has added some supplementary scoring to a powerful Predators roster, firing 13 goals and adding 11 assists in 62 games during the regular season. He also registered 82 penalty minutes, a testament to the fact the competitive fire still burns inside the Regina product.

Overall, he has 327 goals and 707 points in 1,249 career games, to go with 19 goals and 47 points in 98 playoff games. He also has more than 1,800 penalty minutes, placing him among the top 70 all time.

He came close to having his name carved on hallowed trophy in 2010, however, the Flyers fell in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the final.

An apprehensive teen when he walked into the Preds locker room for the first time in the fall of 2000, he recalled how teammates such as then-captain Tom Fitzgerald, Bill Houlder, Greg Johnson and Cliff Ronning made him immediately feel welcomed and helped him learn on the job.

"Those guys were all in their 30s and now 18 years later, it's me. I'm sure some young kids are looking at me, and I want to be that guy working hard every time I'm on the ice or in the gym, so they can learn from me," he said. "You pay it forward a little bit."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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