The Nashville Predators rolled into ’18-’19 camp with almost the exact same group of forwards they finished the season with last year. The most notable absences are Mike Fisher (retirement, again) and Scott Hartnell (free agency) and the most notable additions are a few guys you probably won’t see much. But guys like Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Kyle Turris? Yep, they are still here.
However, there are still a few changes in individual roles going into the new season. With the increased expectation of the fan base comes an increased expectation among individual players. For some players, simply reaching the 20-goal mark isn’t going to cut it. This fan base is ready for superstars and consistent goal-scoring and the Predators have built a roster that is probably ready to deliver.
The Top Six
The biggest question among the top six forwards isn’t who will be in it, but in what combination it will appear.
We know that Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris are the top two centers, in that order. We know that Filip Forsberg, Kevin Fiala, Viktor Arvidsson, and probably Craig Smith are in the top six at the wing spot. But we don’t necessarily know who will be with whom.
Will Johansen, Forsberg, and Arvidsson (“JOFA”) still be together? The signs in the preseason would suggest not.
Peter Laviolette has been playing Johansen and Forsberg with Kevin Fiala and the early returns have been promising. Fiala finished last year with 23 goals, which was 4th highest on the team, and looks even better going into this season. In a preseason game against Florida, Fiala finished with a goal and four assists while playing with Johansen and Forsberg.
One thing I loved about the Forsberg-Johansen-Fiala line last night: there was a lot more passing across the “royal road” which of course led to more dangerous chances.
That was a big missing piece from last year. I think Fiala is a big part of that change.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) September 18, 2018
Since the top line will likely be Forsberg-Johansen-Fiala, that leaves Arvidsson to play with Kyle Turris. The other winger on that line could be a mystery however. Early on it was Calle Jarnkrok. Then it was Craig Smith. Then it was Eeli Tolvanen. Honestly, any combination of those guys works well when you have Arvy out there creating problems for the defense.
I think here’s your top six on opening night:
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Kevin Fiala
Viktor Arvidsson – Kyle Turris – Craig Smith
The Bottom Six
First and foremost, the team has to account for Austin Watson’s 27 game suspension. As he will have “non roster player” designation, the team will not have to account for him on a nightly basis. This means Watson’s spot can be claimed by another forward without losing Watson in the process. This is a good outcome, and probably a result of the Preds being willing to cooperate with the league in the investigation.
Entering Wednesday, there were ten forwards vying for the bottom six, with a few clear front-runners. Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons are your two centers, so they are in. Calle Jarnkrok is also a lock, as is Miikka Salomaki.
That leaves six more players, which is where it gets a bit murky.
Eeli Tolvanen, the next big thing, simply hasn’t shown enough in this preseason to prove he belongs on this roster right now. The team announced they sent him down to the AHL on Wednesday, so he definitely won’t make the team out of camp. Remember that he can only spend 10 games in the AHL before having the option to go back to the KHL.
Ryan Hartman is coming off a shoulder injury, but reportedly will be ready for opening night, despite not having played in the preseason.
Frederick Gaudreau has been playing well in the preseason, but for some reason has been overlooked for the past year. A couple other guys, Colin Blackwell and Rocco Grimaldi, are long shots.
Finally Zac Rinaldo, who, for some reason, has a leg up on the roster simply because of his “rugged” playing style and connection with Laviolette. I went over why that’s a bad idea in this week’s Weekly Edge, but I could see him making it.
Here’s how I see it playing out:
Calle Jarnkrok – Nick Bonino – Ryan Hartman
Zac Rinaldo – Colton Sissons – Miikka Salomaki
Extra forward: Frederick Gaudreau
Leaders of the group
The clear favorite to lead the team in scoring this year is Filip Forsberg. Kevin Fiala could push for 30 goals or more. Ryan Johansen will lead the team in assists among the forwards. I suspect Calle Jarnkrok will have another career season, as he inches closer to a 20 goal season. Keep an eye on Nick Bonino, who could easily bounce back from a disappointing 25 point season last year.
The Nashville Predators have a great group of forwards, but most importantly they have a lot of chemistry and familiarity. This lineup helped fuel the 8th best offense in the league last year, which is impressive. With a few modifications to the lineup, they look ready to take that next step.
— Featured image via USA Today —