In the weeks leading up to the new season, we'll preview the Nashville Predators on a player-by-player basis, examining their role on the squad and expectations relative to capabilities. So come along for the ride as we look ahead to 2010-11, from Andersson to Wilson. Next up: Steve Sullivan.
For a long time, it looked like Steve Sullivan would never return to the ice after a back injury ended his 2006-7 season. Now that he's skating on the top line every night, what can he bring to the Predators in the upcoming campaign?
Offensive catalyst - Sully gets the prime opportunities, with the greatest proportion of offensive-zone faceoffs on the team last season, and 2:58 of power play ice time per game, 2nd among forwards after Jason Arnott. According to Behind the Net, he also enjoyed the highest average Quality of Teammates on the team during his ice time. He can chip in on the penalty kill a bit due to his speed, but job #1 for Sully is to drive the attack.
When he first returned to the lineup, folks were happy just to see Sullivan on the ice at all, but now that he has proved his durability (playing all 82 games last year), the question becomes whether he can return to the 60-70 point level in which he operated throughout most of this decade.
Given his history and role, Sully should rank among the team's leading scorers (he tied Patric Hornqvist last season with 51), but along with that goes the blame if the team can't improve the woeful power play, or break into the top half of the league in overall scoring.
In the final season of his contract, making $3.75 million. Having passed age 35, Sully will have a tough time getting a multi-year deal going forward, but has clearly established that he still has much to contribute in the NHL. Don't expect a contract extension during the season, though.
17 goals and 34 assists in 82 games was good enough to tie Hornqvist for the team scoring lead, but aside from his half-season in 2008-9, it represented his lowest output since 1998-99 in Toronto.
In the playoffs, he showed a great deal of energy and competitiveness, but mustered just 3 assists in 6 games. In 35 career playoff games, Sully has totaled only 5 goals and 9 assists.
I can't imagine Sullivan getting more offensive opportunities than he already does, and with the shift underway towards younger players assuming leading roles, it's possible that Sully's ice time could get trimmed marginally over the course of the year. Spotted by Barry Trotz in the appropriate circumstances, however, he should still have every chance to be an offensive leader on this club.
I'd peg him for 15 goals, 35 assists, and another 50-point season.
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As for a highlight video from last season? Forget about the goals, remember how he jumped to his goalie's defense and took on 6'3" Wojtek Wolski?