With news coming that Jeremy Smith was sent down to Milwaukee, it appears that the situation in net heading into the season is settled and, to no one's surprise, will be Pekka Rinne backed up by Anders Lindback. The same cannot be said, however, for the forwards and defensemen. The Predators still have 29 skaters battling it out for a spot on the opening day roster (Tyler Sloan went on waivers today, but is still with the Preds as of this writing).
Let's first take a look at the forwards and try to figure out who could be left on the outside looking in come opening day:
Currently, the Predators have 18 forwards on the training camp roster. They are, as follows (in alphabetical order):
- Niclas Bergfors
- Gabriel Bourque
- Martin Erat
- Mike Fisher
- Blake Geoffrion
- Matt Halischuk
- Patric Hornqvist
- Sergei Kostitsyn
- David Legwand
- Chris Mueller
- Cal O`Reilly
- Craig Smith
- Jerred Smithson
- Nick Spaling
- Zack Stortini
- Jordin Tootoo
- Colin Wilson
- Kyle Wilson
Since this group will have to be cut down to at most 14 by the start of the season (the Predators went with 14 on opening day last year), let's start trimming down some names. I'll do this by putting the players in groups based on their probability of making the team.
These forwards will, barring an unforeseen injury, certainly make the roster:
Niclas Bergfors, Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, Sergei Kostitsyn, David Legwand, Cal O'Reilly, Jerred Smithson, Nick Spaling, Jordin Tootoo, Colin Wilson.
Most of these guys are names we've come to know and love as Predators fans, so none of them should come as a surprise.
The only name that might jump out from this list is Niclas Bergfors. Bergfors was brought in to bolster the offensive output in Nashville and so far this preseason hasn't shown any reason why he shouldn't make the opening night roster.
Mike Fisher will likely start the season on IR.
The forwards have, for the most part, shown promise but will more than likely start their season in Milwaukee or somewhere else:
Gabriel Bourque, Chris Mueller, Kyle Wilson.
(Note: As Dirk pointed out on twitter, Kyle Wilson would have to go through waivers if the Preds decide to send him down to Milwaukee.)
This leaves us with four forwards competing for the last remaining spots:
Blake Geoffrion, Matt Halischuk, Craig Smith, Zack Stortini.
With the Predators decimated at forward, Geoffrion stepped up and contributed significantly at the end of last season and played in all 12 of Nashville's playoff games. However, Geoffrion is dealing with a wrist injury that could hamper his performance at the start of the season. Geoffrion is under on a two-way contract and since he's not eligible for waivers, could be sent straight to Milwaukee without consequence.
Like Geoffrion, Halishcuk was a late-season call up who was able to fill a role at the forward position through the postseason. Halischuk signed a one-way contract this off-season, and would also have to clear waivers in order to go back to Milwaukee.
Craig Smith is the wild card in this group. He came into pre-season with a lot of hype after he announced he would skip his final two years at Wisconsin and turn pro. Smith has performed well in rookie games, training camp, and pre-season games, even centering Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn on the first power play unit. But is he ready to make the jump straight to the NHL?
Zack Stortini was acquired in the offseason seemingly to fill the void left by Shane O'Brien in the "attitude" department, and delivered in his first pre-season home game, setting the tone early with a fight and then drawing penalties late in the game that led to a couple of power play goals.
There are technically three spots available (if we assume the team will open the season with 14 forwards, like they did last year), but with so many young forwards, it wouldn't make sense to carry that many around when they could be gaining valuable experience in Milwaukee.
If I had to take a guess, I would say that Geoffrion start the season with the Admirals because of his injury, and Smith starts the season as a healthy scratch until Mike Fisher comes back. Once Fisher is healthy again, I would assume Smith gets sent down to Milwaukee, leaving either Halischuk or Stortini as the healthy scratch depending on the match-up.
Another option Poile has would be to trade one of his forwards for a draft pick or in a package deal. Matt Halischuk could be a possibility here given his one-way contract, waiver status, and NHL experience last year. Halishcuk would be a desirable option for a team in need of a relatively cheap grinder. Remember - the Shane O'Brien trade went down on the 5th of October, just days before Nashville's regular season opener.
So, what do you think? Which forwards should be sent down and who should make the Predators roster and starting lineup on opening night?