This is the second of a three-part series, in which I’ll be looking at the Nashville Predators position-by-position and how they shape up heading into the off-season (here is part one). Today we take a peak at the forwards…
Under contract for 10/11: Martin Erat David Legwand Jason Arnott J.P. Dumont Steve Sullivan Joel Ward Jordin Tootoo Colin Wilson Jerred Smithson Marcel Goc Cal O’Reilly Nick Spaling Wade Belak Unsigned: Patric Hornqvist (RFA) Dustin Boyd (RFA) Mike Santorelli (RFA) Andreas Thuresson (RFA) Prospects on the horizon: Zach Budish Blake Geoffrion
On the free agency front, GM David Poile doesn’t really have much on his plate. Patric Hornqvist is easily the most important restricted free agent amongst the forwards, and I’m pretty confident he will be brought back at a reasonable price ($2-3 million) despite his 30-goal outburst.
Poile will have a decision to make with Dustin Boyd, whom he acquired for a 4th-round pick from Calgary on deadline day. If management feels Cal O’Reilly and Nick Spaling are ready to be in Nashville full-time, then I’d be surprise if Boyd was brought back. ---
The Predators really lucked out that the youngsters up front made key contributions… because the veterans struggled to do their part. Can you imagine how good this team would have been if Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont didn’t have their worst season since coming to Nashville, or if David Legwand had actually scored a goal between January and March? Even Martin Erat and Steve Sullivan went through an inconsistent campaign. If these five had stepped up all year like they’re expected and paid to, the Preds would have really pushed Chicago for the division.
I don’t know about you, but I thought Sullivan was too cute all year, trying to make the extra pass or stick-handling move. Just shoot! He shouldn’t have been placed on the point on the power play, but was for most of the season, which made the unit even worse in my opinion.
If you take out November and December, Erat picked up just 23 points in 48 games. This is the same player that is making north of $5 million. He was hot for two months, but reverted back to his usual self.
Legwand played his first full 82-game season without suffering an injury since before the lockout, but was allergic to scoring. He had 11 goals total, and went 34 games (January 5 – March 27) without putting the puck in the back of the net. Poile still considers Legwand a 20-30 goal scorer… really?!
Dumont experienced a 20-point drop-off from the 08/09 season; in his defense, he was playing fourth-line minutes for the last half of the year. However, that was his own doing by not producing like he should, and not having the courage to actually shoot the puck!
Then there’s Captain Arnott (take the captain part lightly). I was on his case all year for not being a great leader and so on; if the concussions are affecting his on-ice play, then so be it. But as long as he has the ‘C’ on his chest and is getting top-line duties, I’m going to expect him to produce like he should.
Going into next season, all five of these veterans will more-than-likely still be around with the Preds… and all five will need to bring it on a more consistent basis. As the playoffs proved, they have the potential to be on top of their game and play really well. They have to bring that more often in the regular season, though. ---
Looking at the success the younger forwards have had off the bat, it should excite Preds fans what the future holds. Hornqvist came out of NOWHERE to score 30 goals (8 game-winners). If he was healthy in the series against Chicago, the power play would have been more effective, possibly resulting in a series win. But that’s neither here or there.
Colin Wilson struggled upon his initial arrival to the NHL. While playing through a groin injury, Wilson was only able to garner 2 points in 10 games in October. He was much better, though, when he was recalled from Milwaukee in February. Wilson is considered the future go-to-guy up front, and showed glimpses of that potential this year.
Coach Barry Trotz and company also have to like what Spaling brought to the table late in the year. He was a late-season call-up, and provided the team with a lot of hard work – especially on the PK. I’d expect to see him at least get more playing time jumping back and forth from Milwaukee, and maybe even stay in Nashville full-time.
One youngster that has failed to live up to expectations is O’Reilly. He’s turning into one of those players that are too good to play in the AHL, but struggle to make the NHL transition. In 42 games in two years, he has just 16 points (well below his AHL pace). I have a feeling that if Boyd is re-signed, it will prolong O’Reilly’s status as a regular in Nashville even further. ---
The next couple years will be critical for the Predators’ forwards, as they slowly make the transition from Arnott, Sullivan, and Dumont to Wilson and Hornqvist (among others). In these next two years, I think you’ll see Wilson really elevate his game; he has all of the tools/skills to become a star.
With the emergence of the youngsters, I’m hard-pressed to think Poile will make many changes up front this summer. Judging by his post-season comments, he’s going to rely on the veterans again to play like they should.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.