The Nashville Predators are on a stellar run, winning 13 of their last 16 games, most recently dominating the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning 7-2 at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.
It was an absolute beatdown, with the Predators putting up seven goals in a game for the third time this season and the second time in four games.
I repeat, Roman Josi is too damn good. #Preds
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) April 14, 2021
With that win, the Preds remain in 4th place in the Central Division, now with seven points over the Dallas Stars and four points over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Of course, it’s impossible to watch this Preds team and not notice the contributions of so many younger players on the ice. Rem Pitlick, playing in only his 9th game, picked up his first two NHL assists. Tanner Jeannot, playing in only his 3rd game, just scored his first NHL goal. Jeremy Davies just played in his 14th game on the blueline, while Yakov Trenin continues to impress on the 4th line, picking up another assist.
All of those players are under 24 years old.
But while it’s fun for Nashville Predators fans to enjoy the resurgence of their team, there has emerged a larger conversation about who deserves credit for the youth movement helping to carry the team to success.
Preds youth are contributing, but who gets credit?
There are really only two options here: David Poile or John Hynes.
Yes, the players themselves are the ones doing it on the ice, but if Poile doesn’t make the transactions and if Hynes doesn’t give the ice time, it doesn’t happen. Those two deserve blame when things go poorly (as I’ve written about both before) so they deserve credit when things go well.
An interesting fan criticism about this #Preds season is something to this effect: “David Poile/John Hynes shouldn’t get credit for the youth movement leading the team to success because it was necessitated by injuries to veterans.”
My question: is this a fair critique?
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) April 13, 2021
But which one has more to do with the success we’ve seen on the ice? Let’s recap the list of youth (for this argument, I’m going with players under 24 years old) that have contributed positively to this team so far that weren’t core members on the team already entering the season:
- Eeli Tolvanen
- Alexandre Carrier
- Jeremy Davies
- Rem Pitlick
- Yakov Trenin
- Mathieu Olivier
- Luke Kunin
- Tanner Jeannot
Quickly, I left three names off the list: David Farrance and Tyler Lewington only played in one game so far, we still need to see more; Dante Fabbro was already a part of the team’s core.
First let’s address David Poile’s claim to credit.
The biggest complaint people had about David Poile’s offseason is that he promised a youth movement was coming, but then went out and signed five unrestricted free agents north of 27 years old: Erik Haula (30), Nick Cousins (27), Mark Borowiecki (31), Brad Richardson (36), and Mikael Granlund (29). These additions, combined with an aging core, guys like Roman Josi (30), Ryan Ellis (30), Matt Duchene (30), Ryan Johansen (28), and Viktor Arvidsson (28), had fans wondering where exactly this youth movement would fit in.
Then, when injuries hit the Preds hard, the youth movement materialized. Carrier and Davies stepped in on the blueline and played very well. Mathieu Olivier (now out with an injury) joined Yakov Trenin on the 4th line and fireworks exploded. Rem Pitlick and Luke Kunin, who had injuries of his own to deal with, have contributed 14 points, playing important middle six roles.
But it’s important to point out that it was injuries to core players (Forsberg, Duchene, Josi, Ekholm, Ellis) that actually led to younger players getting more minutes. Except for Brad Richardson and Mark Borowiecki going on IR, leading to Mathieu Olivier and Alex Carrier getting starting roles, the majority of the youth explosion is in replacing core players.
Here’s a better way of thinking about it.
Which injuries forced them to play youth?
Richardson —> Olivier
Carrier —-> Farrance/Lewington (youthception!)
Duchene & Forsberg just gave more minutes to Jarnkrok, Grimaldi, maybe Haula.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) April 13, 2021
Still, it’s hard to apply credit to Poile for this. He shopped for the groceries and some of them (Richardson in particular) didn’t make any sense. I suppose he gets a small fraction of credit for drafting and developing these players, but that amount of credit is applied to all general managers across the league anytime their players succeed. No extra credit for Poile just for doing his job as GM of the Nashville Predators here.
Here’s where things get interesting.
Hynes was in the crosshairs earlier this season for some questionable roster decisions. Not playing Eeli Tolvanen from day one? Bad move. Playing Cole Smith, an unknown, on opening night? Very odd. Choosing Ben Harpur to anchor the bottom pairing instead of someone like Frederic Allard or Jeremy Davies? Questionable.
But think about the decisions he’s made since early February that have directly led to success.
First, installing Tolvanen on the top line with Johansen and Forsberg was an instant success. And he stayed with it, as you’d expect. When Forsberg and Tolvanen come back from injury, I’d expect that line to return.
Second, working in two young defensemen, Davies and Carrier, into the blueline midseason is not easy to do. That takes a lot of coaching to catch them up to the system, though Hynes himself said the organizational unity deserves the credit there.
Other examples of Hynes’ work paying off: The emergence of the 4th line, which takes a lot of timing and patience. Pairing Colton Sissons with Trenin and Olivier is a very smart move. Coaching up (though I do hate that term) guys like Rocco Grimaldi and Calle Jarnkrok, who saw increased ice time with Duchene and Forsberg out.
So I think you have to give John Hynes a sizable portion of the credit. Maybe not all of it, because part of this stellar run has been the other-worldly play of goalie Juuse Saros, which John Hynes honestly can’t take any credit for.
But the Nashville Predators wouldn’t be in the position they are in without a steady presence behind the bench, and the youth movement that we see emerging wouldn’t happen without John Hynes calling the shots.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —