If you are looking for offensive talent in this Nashville Predators qualifying round matchup with the Arizona Coyotes, you certainly have your pick of the litter. Both teams bring a balance of youth and veteran skill on the offensive side of the puck with names like Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall, Phil Kessel, and Mikael Granlund balancing out names like Clayton Keller, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Nick Schmaltz.
In counting down the top five talents on each team as part of this Series Edge preview, it wasn’t difficult to figure out the top offensive talents. You obviously can’t go wrong with Viktor Arvidsson or Matt Duchene for the Preds, who I previewed already here and here. And then there’s premier talent Taylor Hall for the Coyotes, who you will see later on in this series.
But in my opinion, today’s matchup features two of the best young talents in the game.
Preds #3: Filip Forsberg
There is no single goal scoring threat for the Nashville Predators greater than Filip Forsberg. Period.
He can beat goalies from distance with his lethal wrist shot. He can dangle in and out of traffic to create space for himself and others using his smooth, quick hands. And he can find unusual ways to score with an other-worldly sense for playmaking that few players possess.
How disgusting was this from Filip Forsberg? #Preds
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) May 18, 2020
That was from earlier this year in Edmonton, but don’t forget about this amazing goal he scored in the playoffs a couple years ago:
Unreal moves by Forsberg. We are not worthy. pic.twitter.com/7T1n3I8o6M
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) April 13, 2018
These are the highlight reel goals, of course, but Forsberg has done more than just that. He’s piled up more goals than any other Preds’ skater in the last six seasons (165) and he’s well on his way to matching David Legwand’s career franchise goals mark of 210. He’s also scored more goals in the playoffs than any Preds player in franchise history (23).
Forsberg will likely be back on a line with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson, a line which wreaked havoc in 2017 during the Preds’ Stanley Cup run. If that line can get hot quickly, look for more fireworks, and maybe even a few more goals for the highlight reel.
Prediction: 3 goals in the series
Coyotes #3: Clayton Keller
A Calder Trophy finalist in 2017, Clayton Keller is growing into a star for the Coyotes. Though his sophomore season in 2018-19 was a tad underwhelming for a playmaking forward, he was bouncing back well in 2019-20 until COVID-19 shut the league down.
With 17 goals and 27 assists in 70 games, Keller was pushing for another 60 point season this year. And if he made it to 60 plus, it would have been his 2nd such season in the league, an impressive feat for a 21-year-old.
Here’s a good look at this offensive skills with the puck, especially with shooting:
GOAL. Clayton Keller scores to make it 6-5. pic.twitter.com/4Vv42zBuqS
— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) December 20, 2019
He’s also a very aggressive forward on the forecheck, as evidenced by this opportunistic goal against St. Louis:
Clayton Keller or Champ Bailey?
— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) November 13, 2019
Keller is also solid defensive forward, at least in terms of production on ice. He’s undersized at only 5′ 10″ and 170 pounds, but he uses his speed and stick well in the defensive zone to disrupt the other team’s offensive plans.
Here’s a look at his net defensive impact for the Coyotes (note that blue areas are GOOD for the defense and the lower the impact number in the center, the better):
With the Coyotes looking to optimize their lines, they have a lot of options with a guy like Keller on board. They can put him with Christian Dvorak and Taylor Hall, their other two best forwards, to make one super line that does it all. Or they can balance their lines, putting Keller with veteran Derek Stepan and Phil Kessel, leaving Dvorak and Hall to play with someone like Conor Garland.
Either way, if the Nashville Predators are going to have problems with the Arizona Coyotes in this series, Clayton Keller is going to be a big reason why.
Prediction: 1 goal, 3 assists in the series
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —