For a unit that has only undergone one major change in the offseason, this Nashville Predators forward group is going to look significantly better next season.

That’s how much of an impact Matt Duchene will have on this lineup.

Predators fans won’t have to memorize too many new numbers. There won’t be too many new line combinations. There won’t even be too many (or any) new rookies to keep track of.

But with Matt Duchene in town, the Predators forwards might be the most exciting group to watch this season.

Nashville Predators: Who’s Here

The Predators will enter the 2019-20 season with either 13 or 14 forwards, based on the way things have gone at training camp.

More than likely, that group will be Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund, Craig Smith, Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino, Austin Watson, Calle Jarnkrok, Rocco Grimaldi, Colton Sissons, Daniel Carr, and Miikka Salomaki.

Forward Strengths

While the primary objective of most forwards is to score with the puck, this particular group of Preds forwards is actually strongest at holding onto the puck.

Eventually, you’d like them to score more. As a team, the Preds shot 8.6% last season, which ranked 15th in the league overall. Though that’s with an awful lot of shots coming from defensemen at the blueline, you’d like to see that percentage climb a bit higher and put the team in the top 10 scoring wise.

But the real strength of this forward group is in holding on to the puck, particularly in the offensive zone, long enough to generate quality chances. As a team, the Preds generated a 52.1 shot attempt percentage, which ranked 7th in the league. They still need to generate more high danger chances (they finished 17th in that category last year) with the puck, but overall they do a good job of getting more shot attempts than their opponent on a nightly basis.

And of course, they did all of that last year without top center Matt Duchene on board. With Duchene in the lineup, they’ve got an excellent shooter (12.9% for his career) who can also generate a good amount of high danger chances.

Forward Weaknesses

For what seems like the 20th year in a row, it’s scoring depth. Though Duchene’s presence moves certain players down in the lineup (see: Kyle Turris) and therefore improves the bottom six, there is still a worrisome lack of scoring in the lower half of the lineup.

Colton Sissons, who just signed a surprisingly long deal this summer, is coming off a 15 goal season, a career high for him. He also shot two percentage points over his career shooting percentage, so it seems like he won’t match that number again.

Same thing with Nick Bonino. He enjoyed a nice bounceback year for the Preds last year, with 17 goals and 18 assists. But he enjoyed a healthy, unsustainable shooting percentage and high danger scoring chance rate that he probably won’t reach again.

Calle Jarnkrok, Daniel Carr, Austin Watson, and Rocco Grimaldi round out this same group of forwards. Guys who shouldn’t be counted on to contribute to the score sheet regularly, but can occasionally surprise you.

Is this scoring depth not just a weakness, but a problem? Probably not.

Again, with Matt Duchene in town, the lines become much more balanced with offensive ability, as you can see in the projected lines below.

Breakout Player

It’s safe to say that Mikael Granlund did not impress immediately upon arrival to Nashville last year. Brought in to replace Kevin Fiala, Granlund scored only one goal and five points in 16 games with Nashville last season.

He was a disappointment, but there could be other factors here. For one, he came from a very different system in Minnesota. The defensive minded trap game that the Wild have employed for years is very different from Laviolette’s high pressure, “staggered pentagon” style, where all five players are called upon to contribute offensively (and back check on defense).

Mikael Granlund Nashville Predators
Mikael Granlund’s player profile from @RK_Stimp. Granlund is a 1st line player when it comes to primary assists and passing overall.

But Granlund’s game is built around smart passing and puck control. He likes to find dangerous cross ice passes, something the Preds have been lacking recently. Especially if he finds himself on a line with Duchene, he should excel given a full year to get comfortable with the system. Something in the neighborhood of 65 points would not be unrealistic for Granlund this season.

Position MVP

Simply put, Matt Duchene is the missing piece for this offense. He’s the rocket fuel that will help carry this offensive projectile out of the atmosphere.

He does so many things so well in the offensive zone that it’s hard to find a weakness there. He has speed, shooting ability, passing, skating, puck-handling, and a really impressive energy when he enters the zone with the puck. He isn’t the strongest defensive forward, but he isn’t terrible either.

I expect Duchene to lead the Preds in points this season, though Johansen will be close behind.

Likely Forward Lines

We still have a week to go, but if the season started tomorrow, this is how I think the lines look.

Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson

Mikael Granlund – Matt Duchene – Craig Smith

Calle Jarnkrok – Kyle Turris – Rocco Grimaldi

Austin Watson – Nick Bonino – Colton Sissons

Scratches: Daniel Carr, Miikka Salomaki

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —
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