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: Joel Ward.
#29 was signed as a free agent during the summer of 2008, which was the first full summer the Freeman-Cigarran ownership group had with the Predators. Ward was unproven at the NHL level, but has shown he can not only hold his own against the best that the competition throws at him, but can also contribute on the offensive side when needed. Hit the jump for an in-depth look at Ward's performance last season, and what we can expect from him this year.
Last season, Ward was a part of the second line with David Legwand and Jerred Smithson, relied upon for the occasional goal here and there, but also for going up against the opposing team's top lines; his Relative Corsi Quality of Competition number (a reflection of the quality of opponent a player faced when on the ice) was the highest of any forward with 40+ games played in the league. He played a big role on the penalty kill as well, 2nd among Nashville forwards with 1:56 of shorthanded ice time per game.
While not a major offensive contributor, there were several three-game surges throughout the season where he would put up at least one point per game. When he is in the offensive zone, he's more of a set-up man, and even then only appears on the scoresheet in spurts.
The makeup of his line may differ with the acquisition of Matthew Lombardi, Sergei Kostitsyn, and the continued growth of Colin Wilson, but it's fair to say that Barry Trotz will probably look to Ward again to go eyeball to eyeball against the best each night's opponent has to offer, as well as contribute on the penalty kill.
He's in the final year of his contract, with Nashville giving him $1.5 million for the 2010-11 season. With stalwarts such as Shea Weber and Steve Sullivan also in the final year of their respective contracts, as well as question mark players (but with high potential) in Cal O'Reilly and Sergei Kostitsyn also in their final contract seasons, Ward probably won't be the top priority for David Poile and Co.
That being said, a strong showing this season could easily cement his place next year, but it's also very likely he could find himself elsewhere. There's really just too much depending on how other situations play out over the year.
Ward played in 71 games last season, tallying 13 goals and 21 assists, averaging just under two shots per game. He definitely stepped up for the Predators during the playoffs, racking up two goals and two assists (tying him with J.P. Dumont for 3rd on the team in postseason points), including a key shorthanded score that kick-started a Nashville comeback in that heartbreaking Game 5 loss against Chicago.
As mentioned above, out of all NHL players with at least 40 games played, Ward faced the toughest competition night-in and night-out, which explains his +/- rating of -5.
That video above is very indicative of Ward's approach. He likes to get close to the net and stuff away rebounds and missed shots when given the opportunity. A lot of his potential this season will depend on where he is placed, and the line mates with whom he is placed. That being said, he has been consistent in the points he provides this team during his two years here: 34 points (13 goals) this past season and 35 points (17 goals) in 2008-09. Look for similar numbers again this year. I'd say something like 34 points (11-16 goals) is a good guesstimate. What do you think, Pred Heads?
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