Can young guns like Craig Smith develop into the next generation of Nashville's offensive leaders?
Yeah, I miss J.P. Dumont.
This gives the Preds unrivaled depth up front, with Jason Arnott, Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya supported by a bevy of 20-goal scorers like Scott Hartnell, Martin Erat, and Dumont. Toss in Josef Vasicek, David Legwand, and the highly anticipated Alexander Radulov, and it looks like Nashville is ready to shake off the image of gritty, overachieving scrubs that they've had in years past. Instead of fighting for 2-1 victories and relying on Tomas Vokoun to outplay the other goalie every night, the Preds should have enough firepower to make other teams adjust their gameplans.
Ah, those halcyon days of yore!
That 2006-2007 team was a real delight, as they put together the best regular season in franchise history, and also set a high-water mark offensively with 266 goals. They weren't slouches defensively, either, placing 8th in Goals Against that season.
How Do Today's Preds Forwards Compare to 2006?
One of the main questions facing this current group of Preds is whether or not they have enough talent up front to keep Nashville around the 100-point mark in the standings. Replacing Ryan Suter on the back end will already present one challenge, but if you remember the excitement level when Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn had been added to the mix, well, it's fair to wonder where things stand now.
The table below shows the Top 9 forwards heading into each campaign, along with their age at the start of that season, and their Points Per Game from the previous one, to give an idea of where they stood. For example, at the start of the 2006-2007 season Sully was 32, and had put up 68 points in 69 games (0.98 PPG) in 2005-2006:
|Player||Age||Previous PPG||Player||Age||Previous PPG|
|Steve Sullivan||32||0.98||Mike Fisher||32||0.70|
|Jason Arnott||31||0.93||David Legwand||32||0.67|
|Paul Kariya||31||1.03||Martin Erat||31||0.81|
|J.P. Dumont||28||0.74||Sergei Kostitsyn||25||0.57|
|Josef Vasicek||26||0.39||Patric Hornqvist||25||0.56|
|David Legwand||26||0.59||Nick Spaling||24||0.28|
|Martin Erat||25||0.61||Craig Smith||23||0.50|
|Scott Hartnell||24||0.59||Colin Wilson||22||0.51|
|Alexander Radulov||20||Rookie||Gabriel Bourque||22||0.44|
So in a nutshell, this current group is slightly younger than that 2006-2007 squad, and I would say quite a bit less accomplished offensively (Radulov's PPG wasn't even included in the 2006-2007 average since he was a rookie). Sully, Arnott & Kariya were all right around the point-per-game mark, while the current Preds don't have anybody near that level of production, and will instead rely on the "committee" approach.
Can The Young Guns Lead?
I'm a firm believer that such an approach can work, but only if it makes up for in quantity what it lacks in quality, and to me, it's all going on hinge on how that 3rd line shakes out. Nick Spaling has earned the coaches' trust with his style of play, but I want to see Craig Smith and Colin Wilson featured as major offensive contributors (heck, if you have to, let Spals play the role of the defensively-responsible winger on that line). Going with a "2 scoring lines, 2 checking lines" approach isn't likely to get the job done when you don't have top-flight scorers leading the way on the first line.
What do you think? Is there enough potential among the younger guys on the current roster to allow them to bolster the attack and make up for the high-profile free agent departures this summer?