To say the least, it’s been an interesting 52 games for the Nashville Predators. Player production has varied, injuries have altered the lineup, yet somehow Nashville is still second in the division. Since I’m in school, I’m going to give them grades on how each line and defensive pairing has performed.
Understand most of these players have been hurt for at least one game- this is theoretically what the lineup will look like when everyone comes back.
First Line (33-92-9)
Point production alone puts the JOFA line above any other Predator line- even with the combined 41 missed games. The three forwards have delivered Nashville a whopping 98 points. Viktor Arvidsson, who’s missed the most time out of all forwards, leads the team in goals with 19. Filip Forsberg, who’s missed only three games less, trails him with 18.
This team would not be successful without the first line. Ryan Johansen steadily earned points in spite of the two absentees, and both Swede forwards have lit the lineup on fire when present. With 30 games left on the schedule, it will be fun to watch this line.
Now, enjoy Forsberg’s hat trick.
Two for one deal? Absolutely.
Second Line (22-8-15)
Kyle Turris has battled through injuries all throughout the first half of the year, and both Kevin Fiala and Craig Smith have suffered because of it. Putting up 71 points with only 22 combined miss games, this line has to be better come the second half. Turris, a smart hockey player, stabilized the second line upon arrival last year and provided the necessary boost for Smith and Fiala to be 20+ goal scorers.
This year, both Fiala and Smith have underperformed in terms of production, but Smith has won more puck battles and overall skates with a purpose. On the other hand, Fiala hasn’t performed nearly well enough to sustain the club’s presence- especially since he was rewarded the first line winger spot in place of Viktor Arvidsson.
Kyle Turris is needed. And then the three forwards need to find their chemistry again.
Third Line (10-13-51)
Considering this line could be called the “penalty kill line,” and all three of them combining for 26 missed games, the production has not disappointed in the slightest. Colton Sissons, Austin Watson, and Nick Bonino have exceeded expectations in actuality. 62 points from three forwards who are put in more defensive scenarios than offensive scenarios is pretty good.
Sissons has steadily increased his point production over the years in the NHL, and he’s on pace for another personal record-breaking year. He is the most improved player on the team this year.
Both Sissons and Watson have netted a hat trick, and Bonino has scored in games where the team needed a boost. When it’s all said and done, this line have tremendous chemistry. Expect them to make a big splash as the team starts competing for seeding.
Fourth Line (38-19-23)
It’s hard to rate a line that’s so fluid, so the projected lineup I went with was based purely on guys who have the most likeliness to be on the ice. Ryan Hartman and Rocco Grimaldi were handed one-year, “prove it” contracts, and they have proved their worth, in my opinion. Hartman is much like Scott Hartnell of last year. He scores when least expected, and usually has a tremendous impact on the outcome of the game (at least when he scores). Grimaldi, labeled “Rocket Man”, has surpassed his season goal and point total already, and overall inspires the bottom six. Both forwards deserve a better spot in the lineup.
Calle Jarnkrok, who would normally occupy the fourth line center spot, has been thrust into the top six. He has performed like the player he’s always been- unlikely contributions with no outstanding offensive statistics. The brightest spot for Jarnkrok was his hat trick against the Los Angeles Kings.
Also, Ryan Hartman’s first goal against the Vegas Golden Knights was nothing short of spectacular.
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1st Defensive Pair (14-76)
P.K. Subban has missed 19 games on the year so far. His impact on the ice left the defensive team in scramble mode, considering he’s arguably the best defenseman on the team. That being said, he’s spent some time creating a reality TV show, and I’d say point production has waned slightly. With that in mind, no one is complaining he’s back.
Mattias Ekholm has officially broken through. In 51 games, he’s put up 37 points. A new personal record. He continues to impress at both ends of the ice, and never fails to disappoint. Ekholm is anchoring the defensive core as of right now- the Predators need him to stay hot.
2nd Defensive Pair (59-4)
Roman Josi is doing Roman Josi things- skating and assisting. Nothing excruciatingly spectacular, but effective nonetheless. He, alongside Pekka Rinne, represented the Music City at the All-Star festivities. Josi leads the defenseman in goals and is third on the team in points.
Ryan Ellis hasn’t done as well as Nashville had hoped, but to say he’s done nothing would be a lie. He’s running in the middle of the pack in terms of points, and defensive play has been shaky at times, but there’s no need to undermine his importance. With a new contract comes expectations, and once he settles in, Ellis will be doing Ellis things.
Also, Josi should do this more often.
3rd Defensive Pair (7-5)
Yannick Weber and Dan Hamhuis will most likely be the third defensive pairing now that all defensemen are healthy. Weber and Hamhuis have combined for 11 points, which is about as expected. Hamhuis has yet to net a goal, and Weber has a hard time defending the rush.
Both defensemen are solid for what they are, and much like the fourth line, they can handle par to subpar competition. For instance, I would not want them on the ice at the same time as Colorado’s top line. The third line, however, would be a better matchup.
Other Players (20, 16, 11, 42, 89, 36)
Miikka Salomaki has been the best of the healthy scratches due to his tenacious performances on the fourth line and has been rewarded with seven points. Frederick Gaudreau, Philip de Giussepe, Eeli Tolvanen, Colin Blackwell, and Zac Rinaldo have all combined for eight points. Gaudreau and Salomaki have been regulars due to injury, and Rinaldo has seen bits and pieces here and there.
Tolvanen, Blackwell, and de Giussepe have all been assigned to Milwaukee. Their appearances were brief, but the future is bright. de Giussepe was picked up from Arizona, but will likely be called up come playoff time (should he stay with the club).
Other Defenseman (52, 2)
Anthony Bitetto and Matt Irwin haven’t scored any goals and tend to slip up defensively more often than not. Bitetto was recently released on waivers, and Irwin has officially returned back to the healthy scratch list now that the big defensemen are back.
Since Bitetto is with the Wild, I’ll say this about Irwin- he’s experienced and can hold his own against par to sub-par competition. He’s good for physicality- he’s not meant to score.
Goalies (35, 74)
Both Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros have had their moments, but their efforts have salvaged some games for the Predators. These two goaltenders tend to work in cycles of five or six- five games, they’re lights out; next five, not so much. With a combined .915 save percentage and five shutouts, the two have certainly done their part.
Saros had a rough November and December, and Rinne has shown flashes of mediocrity, but these two players are the reason Nashville wins games. Expect another few months of solid play.
Also, I’d expect the Winnipeg Jets to win the Central Division, and Nashville to win the Central Division series in six games. Chalk that up as my “way too early” Stanley Cup playoff predictions.
-Jack Woods covers the Nashville Predators and the Central Division for PenaltyBoxRadio.com and FullPressCoverage.com. You can follow Jack on Twitter at @jack_woods15 and the Full Press Predators at @FPC_Predators