The Nashville Predators are busy preparing for their upcoming qualifying round matchup with the Arizona Coyotes. They’ve been hosting some scrimmages at Bridgestone Arena, pitting gold against white, and making the final touches on line combinations, defensive pairings, and goaltending matchups.
There are a lot of unknowns within the scope of this Preds Coyotes matchup. What sort of shape will the players be in? How do coaches get their teams up to playoff speed at the jump? How long before someone tests positive for COVID-19, impacting their own presence in the lineup or perhaps someone else’s?
The labyrinth of possibilities with this playoff series make predictions extremely difficult. As I’ve already discussed, I think the Coyotes have the upper hand in defense and goaltending, but I would take the Preds overall on talent level. Since neither team has the benefit of “playing with momentum going into the playoffs” it seems like talent could be the deciding factor, but who really knows?
With that, here’s part one of a five part series counting down the top five talents on each team and how they will impact the series.
Preds #5: Viktor Arvidsson
There’s no doubt about it, the Preds missed Viktor Arvidsson this season.
After missing nearly a month of hockey following a dirty play by St. Louis Blues’ defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, Arvidsson wasn’t quite the same player when he returned. He still finished with 15 goals this season, but for a guy who just set the Preds single season goals record at 34, that’s sub par (even with a shortened season).
But there’s also no doubt about Arvidsson’s impact on the team. No player brings the same level of energy, the same combination of quickness and skill. No player brings more “spunk”, you might put it. He’s the most visible player on the ice when he’s out there, digging into the corners on defense, chasing down the puck on the forecheck, and speeding into the zone ready to crash the net.
And even so… here are the #Preds goals leaders for the last four seasons (including his injury plagued 19-20) combined:
1. Viktor Arvidsson – 109
2. Filip Forsberg – 106
3. Craig Smith – 76
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) July 22, 2020
He’s in many ways the Preds’ most valuable offensive asset, simply because he can do it all.
If you were to ask me which Preds player was the most talented and the most skilled, I would say Filip Forsberg. But that doesn’t mean he’s the most impactful. Forsberg doesn’t have the same speed as Arvidsson, nor does he have the same work rate in both ends. He’s no slouch, don’t get me wrong, teams have to prepare for Filip Forsberg probably more than anyone else… but Arvidsson provides more visible impact on the offense to the naked eye.
If the Predators are going to come out on top in this series, I think Viktor Arvidsson is going to be why. And if he scores a couple of goals in the first couple games, the Preds win this series easily.
Prediction: 2 goals, 1 assist in the series
Coyotes #5: Phil Kessel
Phil Kessel took a back seat during the rivalry between the Preds and Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup (P.K. Subban and Sidney Crosby were very much in the driver’s seat of that one) but he’s always been a player that opposing fan love to hate.
Hell, he’s a player that his own fans love to hate.
But while he’s 32 years old and very much on the back nine of his career, don’t discount Phil Kessel when it comes to the postseason.
With 77 points in 87 career playoff games, including 33 goals, Kessel is a straight up force in the playoffs. He’s also won two Stanley Cups, both with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) March 29, 2020
With a lethal snap shot from the circle and surprising speed from the wings, bet your savings on Kessel showing up in this series.
Prediction: 2 goals in the series
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —