The last, and longest of our mid-season Nashville Predators reviews focuses on the forwards, a group which has undergone tremendous turmoil so far due to a steady stream of injuries which have resulted in different lineups on a nightly basis.
As always, we're looking at each player relative to the expectations they carried coming into the season. Follow after the jump for all the nitty gritty details!
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As before, we'll start with the basic numbers up to here, and include the more complicated, Behind The Net numbers at the bottom. All of this is through 41 games:
We've pretty much wasted our breath over the question of whether it's really necessary (or effective) in the modern NHL to carry an enforcer on the roster, but I'll give Wade a bit of credit for a few good games when he was pressed into duty during the worst of the injury pinch. That said, he's just not a productive NHL player any more. He's not even fighting very much, with just two scraps so far. As a radio color man, however, Wade's got potential in spades.
Yahoo!'s Puck Daddy blog dubbed him the Most Disappointing Player on the Preds so far, and it's hard to argue that point. After finishing last season in Barry Trotz's doghouse, we heard great things about J.P.'s offseason work and refreshed attitude to take a leading role this year, but it just hasn't happened. His points-per-game pace is the worst of his career, and he ranks 12th in average ice time among the Nashville forwards.
The strange thing, though? The balance of Total Shots For & Against tips heavily in the Preds' favor when J.P. hits the ice (his Relative Corsi of +12.0 is tops on the team alongside Hornqvist). That opens a bit of a window to argue that perhaps he deserves a better opportunity, but if the coaching staff agreed with that, there would have been no need to swipe Marek Svatos off the waiver wire. As an admirer of J.P. and his game it hurts me to write this, but...
He is perhaps the most skilled Predator up front, and when he's "on", he can drive the attack at a point-per-game pace for up to a month at a time. The problem is finding that "on" switch. This season, he's been hobbled by back troubles which have been used to excuse his early lack of production, and at this rate, who knows if he'll ever be 100%.
When it comes to grading Marty, it all hinges on your expectations. Is he supposed to be the offensive leader, as Trotz & Poile have often said? If so, he's a disappointment. Factor in his generally responsible defensive play and underrated PK work, however, and he's a solid contributor to the team.
Last year he broke out of the 4th-line center mold to post a career-high 30 point season, and he's on pace for new heights this year. Due to all the injuries down the middle he's received a battlefield promotion and often plays against tougher opposition, which has exposed his limitations lately. After David Legwand got hurt in Montreal, over the next 19 games (mostly without Leggy), Goc contributed just 2 goals and 4 assists (0.31 PPG). In the six games with Legwand back, he's put up 1 goal and 3 assists (0.67 PPG).
He's gotten a bit of a cameo on the power play lately, and I'm hopeful that something might develop there, but early results aren't encouraging. Things look better on the PK, where he's been OK in a tertiary role. The other surprising bit is that he's winning just 48.9% of his faceoffs, after being a standout performer on the dot in recent years.
After some early concern, the goals have started to come for Hornqvist, who keeps firing shots on goal regardless of which linemates he's had to work with. He's tenaciously tipping the Shots For & Against figures in Nashville's favor on a regular basis, and draws the odd penalty as well due to his aggravating presence around the goal crease.
He's making a believer out of critics (like me) who thought he had a long ways to go to prove himself as a valuable NHL forward. Don't get too excited about the goal-scoring totals, though. Just as some guys appear snake-bit for a period of time, SK74's shooting percentage is about twice as high as is reasonably expected. Even so, he's tied for the assist lead among forwards, and appears comfortable playing a Top Six role despite not having blazing speed. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time, however, and that's more important than how quickly he gets there.
He's on pace to put up the same 35-45 point season as usual, while lining up against the top center from the opposing team. As I've said before, that's what allows the other forwards to face softer matchups, and that's where Leggy's true value lies. His new line with Colin Wilson and Marek Svatos bears watching, as it should allow him to push things more offensively.
And if you think he's just run-of-the-mill defensively, Globe & Mail writer James Mirtle just ranked him #6 on a list of top defensive forwards in the NHL.
He was an early-season sensation, but much like Marcel Goc, once David Legwand got hurt things dried up for Cal. Up through that game in Montreal, he had 4 goals and 9 assists in 18 games (0.72 PPG). For then until Leggy's return on December 31, he chipped in just 2 goals and 3 assists in 19 games (0.26 PPG). A broken leg has him on the shelf for the foreseeable future, but it was a promising start for O'Reilly, whose job next season is to develop more consistency.
Top 3 team PK? Check.
Top 10 faceoff man? Check.
Well done, Smithers.
He first caught our attention during the Development Camp in the summer of 2009, and he's jumped ahead of several prospects to establish himself as a useful NHL player, albeit in a focused, limited role. He's still young, though, so there's still a bit of upside here. He's done an outstanding job on the PK, and if he can continue developing his game, we could have Vern Fiddler 2.0 on our hands.
Sully's a fascinating guy to watch, because he's still an offensive leader on this team, but it always seems like there's a little more production that's just not quite getting realized. Time is not on his side here, as age slows him down and the league seems to get a little bit faster year after year. The bottom line, however, is that he's still among the most dangerous forwards on the team, and his line with Cal O'Reilly and Patric Hornqvist led the way during the first two months. Now, we just hope he can return to action soon.
Hockey isn't his primary focus these days, for good reason, and it's too bad because he was on pace for a strong season. Getting his life in order is job #1, however.
Mirtle has Ward as #11 on his list of top defensive forwards, and that's the upside here, as his offensive output has dropped off from the last two years. He's a regular presence on the team's PK unit, and has prospered on a shutdown line alongside Spaling & Smithson. That said, if he expects a raise in his next contract, he needs to get more aggressive driving the puck to the net.
In our season preview I pegged him for 20 goals and 40 points, and by golly, he's on pace for 20 goals and 41 points right now. There have been ups and downs along the way, as expected with a 2nd-year pro, but he adds a unique presence to the lineup with his physical strength along the boards, ability to protect the puck as he carries through traffic, and deceptively quick wrist shot.
5-on-5 Data (Behind The Net)
|Player||TOI/60||G/60||Ast/60||+/- Rating||SFON/60||SAON/60||Rel. Corsi||On-Ice Sht %||On-Ice Sv %||PDO||Corsi QoC||Corsi Rel QoT||PTAKE/60||PDRAW/60|
Power Play Data (5-on-4)
Penalty Kill Data (4-on-5)
When I publish these tables, my Shots For & Against columns combine Goals and Saved Shots, which isn't the way they're displayed at Behind the Net.